Tuesday, November 10, 2009

France Seeks Iran Guarantees Over Academic's Trial

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Agence France Presse (AFP)

France is demanding formal guarantees from Iran that it will not jail a French academic while she awaits a verdict in her trial, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday. The minister told France Inter radio that Clotilde Reiss, who is sheltered in the French embassy in Tehran, will not turn up in court unless she receives assurances that she can remain there pending the verdict. Tehran's chief prosecutor said on Monday that the trial of the 24-year-old Iranian specialist would resume following her first court appearance on August 8 on charges of "collecting information and provoking rioters." "She will go with certain guarantees," Kouchner said. The minister said the court must agree to release her after the last hearing in the trial. Tehran has not announced a date for the trial to resume. "She must be able to leave the courthouse in Tehran and return to the embassy. Then there will be a decision by the judge," said Kouchner. Le Figaro newspaper last week reported the French embassy had sent a formal letter to the Iranian foreign ministry requesting assurances and stating that Reiss would not appear in court without them.

Reiss was arrested at a Tehran airport on July 1 for taking part in mass protests triggered by the disputed re-election in June of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She was released on bail in August on condition that she remain at the French embassy pending the court judgment. Reiss had planned to fly home after completing a six-month teaching and research assignment in the central city of Isfahan. In the closing weeks of her stay she witnessed the protests, took pictures and emailed them to friends. Scores of reformists, journalists and opposition supporters were jailed following the mass protests over Ahmadinejad's re-election, and more than 140 have appeared in mass trials. France has insisted that Reiss is not guilty and has demanded her unconditional release. President Nicolas Sarkozy in September rejected as "blackmail" a tit-for-tat offer from Iran to release Reiss if France reciprocates by freeing Iranian prisoners including Ali Vakili Rad, convicted for the 1991 murder in Paris of Shapour Bakhtiar, Iran's last prime minister under the shah. The arrest of Reiss has stoked tensions between France and Iran, which already are at odds over Tehran's nuclear programme and Paris' harsh criticism of the regime's crackdown on opposition protesters.