Iran releases video of two captured French 'spies'

Footage of hostages shows two French nationals purportedly confessing to espionage

Iran's Azadi tower is illuminated with pictures of the late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to mark the 33rd anniversary of his death, in Tehran on June 3. AFP
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Iran claims to have captured two French citizens who purportedly confessed to acts of espionage, and published a video showing the prisoners on Thursday.

The arrests come as Iranian leaders seek to portray continuing anti-government protests as a foreign plot instead of widespread anger over the death of a Iranian woman, 22, detained by the country’s "morality police".

A woman identified as Cecile Kohler, a high school teacher and educational trade union official, and her partner Jacques Paris were shown in the the video released by the state-run Irna news agency.

France’s government issued a rebuke to the accusations and called the detained citizens “state hostages”.

Iran, which has long used detained westerners as bargaining chips in negotiations, has previously offered no public evidence to support the spying accusations.

The French Foreign Ministry said the “supposed confessions extracted under duress” of the detained French nationals in the video was “outrageous”.

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“This masquerade reveals the contempt for human dignity that characterises the Iranian authorities,” the ministry said.

It said other French citizens are also being arbitrarily held in Iran, without identifying them.

Meanwhile, the EU adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for sanctions against those responsible for the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police, and Iran’s subsequent crackdown on anti-government protests.

The resolution, adopted by a show of hands, urges the 27-nation bloc to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and calls for an investigation into Amini’s death.

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“Parliament strongly condemns the widespread and disproportionate use of force by Iranian security forces against the crowds,” the resolution said.

Politicians also demanded that Iran “immediately and unconditionally release and drop any charges against anyone who has been imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as all other human rights defenders.”

The outpouring of anger in Iran — largely led by young women and directed at the government’s male leadership — has created a seminal moment for the country, leading to some of the largest and boldest protests against the country’s Islamic leadership seen in years.

The clips released on Thursday resembled other videos of confessions Tehran has forced prisoners to make.

In 2020, one report suggested authorities over the past decade had aired at least 355 coerced confessions.

In the clips, Ms Kohler wears a headscarf and purportedly describes herself as an “intelligence and operation agent of French foreign security service".

Mr Paris purportedly says: “Our goals in the French foreign security service is to put pressure on Iran’s government.”

The clips are part of what is described as a coming documentary to air on Iranian state TV that will accuse them of bringing cash to the country to stir dissent.

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France did not immediately respond to the release of the video clips. In May, however, the French government demanded their release and condemned “these baseless arrests.”

Their visit to Iran coincides with months of protests by teachers for higher wages in the country.

Any sanctions by the EU would fall under the bloc’s “Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.”

It was set up two years ago so the bloc could “target individuals, entities and bodies — including state and non-state actors — responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide".

Other human rights breaches or abuses can be included “if they are widespread, systematic or otherwise of serious concern".

These measures usually consist of travel bans and asset freezes on officials accused of involvement in any suspect abuses or “entities,” like banks, companies, agencies or other organisations.

It prevents EU citizens from making funds available to those listed.

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Updated: October 06, 2022, 10:07 PM