Middle East

Iran confirms arrest of 2 French nationals for ‘stoking unrest'

Arrest of French nationals causes fresh tensions between Tehran and Paris

Syed Zafar Mehdi   | 17.05.2022
Iran confirms arrest of 2 French nationals for ‘stoking unrest'

TEHRAN, Iran 

Iran on Tuesday confirmed the arrest of two French nationals for stoking unrest by participating in teacher protests.

Iran's state broadcaster showed a film about the duo's arrest by intelligence sleuths and their activities in Iran, calling them "spies."

The pair were identified as Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69, who French authorities say had visited Iran as tourists.

On May 11, Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced the arrest of "two European nationals" for allegedly "fomenting chaos and social disorder,” without disclosing their nationality.

The ministry said the pair had been sent by "foreign conspirators" to carry out destabilizing activities in the country.

A day later, France condemned what it called “groundless arrest” of two French nationals and demanded their immediate arrest.

The French Foreign Ministry said that its envoy in Tehran was seeking consular access to the duo and that a senior diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Paris had been summoned for explanations.

Iran's state media confirmed that the detainees were French nationals – members of a prominent French trade union representing education – who it said had met with protesting teachers and taken part in recent protests in Iran over salary hikes and working conditions.

The film presents sketchy details about their arrest earlier this month, calling them spies who wanted to stoke unrest by organizing protests against the government.

The footage shows their arrival at Tehran airport on April 28, their meetings with Iranian protesting teachers, participation in a protest meeting and eventually their arrest while on their way to the airport on May 7.

It comes amid efforts by Iran and world powers – including France – to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. The latest round of talks has been paused over key disagreements between Tehran and Washington, but the Europeans are trying to have the talks resumed.

Experts believe the arrest of the French duo is likely to further heighten tensions between the two countries and can potentially complicate diplomatic efforts to reach a breakthrough on the nuclear agreement.

A total of four French nationals are presently under arrest in Iran, the two others being Benjamin Briere sentenced to eight years in prison in January and Fariba Adelkhah sentenced to five years in prison in 2020.

Briere was accused of espionage by Iranian authorities for photographing "prohibited areas" with a drone camera in northern Iran in June 2020.

It comes on the heels of a death sentence given to Iranian-Swedish national Ahmad-Reza Jalili, accused of espionage for Israel.

The sentence was recently upheld by Iran's apex court and he is likely to be executed on May 21.

EU Deputy Foreign Policy Chief Enrique Mora, during his visit to Tehran last week, had raised the issue of Jalili with Iranian authorities.

In a tweet, he said he had "raised the need to stop execution" of Jalali and "asked for his release on humanitarian grounds."

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