The Times: Images of a French woman in an Iranian court confessing to spying for France sparked outrage in her homeland yesterday, with President Sarkozy coming under fire for allegedly neglecting her case.
Charles Bremner in Paris
Images of a French woman in an Iranian court confessing to spying for France sparked outrage in her homeland yesterday, with President Sarkozy coming under fire for allegedly neglecting her case.
Video and photographs of Clotilde Reiss, 24, apparently admitting her guilt as officials and guards, almost all men, looked on, touched hearts and stirred anger in France.
She delivered her testimony to the crowded auditorium in steady, clear tones before taking questions, watched by rows of prisoners.
Although the images were provided by Iranian state television, it was clear from her delivery and language that she was reciting a confession that had been prepared for her.
President Sarkozy announced that he would take time off from his Mediterranean holiday to make her release his priority. He was criticised for not addressing earlier the case of the student who was arrested on July 1 when she was leaving for France.
Iran has decided to make an example of Ms Reiss, a research student from Lille, and a French-Iranian employee of the French Embassy.
Mr Sarkozy has angered Iran by talking of fraud in the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June and for opening a French military base in Abu Dhabi.
Ms Reiss, the daughter of Rémi Reiss, a nuclear engineer, admitted attending an anti-government demonstration in Isfahan, where she had spent five months as an assistant university teacher. She acknowledged sending an e-mail to friends and a report to a French-run institute of Iranian studies.
“I wrote a one-page report and submitted it to an official at the cultural section of the French Embassy who was not a diplomat. I should not have taken part in illegal activities. I realise this was a mistake,” she said, speaking in fluent Farsi.
“I apologise to the court and the people of Iran, and I hope they will forgive me.”
The court, which had no lawyers or foreign witnesses present, was told that Ms Reiss had once written a memorandum on Iranian nuclear policy while gaining work experience in a French atomic power agency.
Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, denounced the trial and said that confessions were elicited under pressure. He added that Ms Reiss was an admirable student who was innocent.
Concerns for her safety grew yesterday after Mehdi Karroubi, a defeated presidential candidate, alleged that men and women protesters had been raped in prison.
“A number of detainees have said that some female detainees have been raped savagely. Young boys held in detention have also been savagely raped,” Mr Karroubi said.
Mr Sarkozy’s staff said that the President had begun contacting everyone possible who might be able to secure the release of Ms Reiss.
Mr Reiss denied that his daughter was a spy. “She is an apprentice researcher, studious and above all very determined,” he said.
Ms Reiss became fluent in Farsi and learnt about Iranian culture from her nanny after the death of her mother when she was 4.
Tehran reacted with anger to the French outcry yesterday, saying that Ms Reiss was, indeed, guilty of spying.
“This French lady is teaching French at Isfahan Technical University. She takes part in the Tehran protests, takes photographs and film. What is the connection? This has nothing to do with her French teaching,” Hassan Ghashghavi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.
He dismissed as “illegal and surprising” criticism from Britain and France over the prosecution of their embassy staff on charges of spying and abetting protests after the disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad. Hossein Rassam, a political analyst at the British Embassy, has also confessed to spying.
Nazak Afshar, 50, who has worked at the French Embassy in Tehran for 18 years, is being tried, among other things, for opening the embassy door to allow injured demonstrators to enter.
Dr Kouchner said that she had been obeying the Government’s orders to do so, while her daughter said in Paris that her mother had been forced to admit guilt.
French commentators on Iran said that they expected Ms Reiss to be sent home after the show trial had achieved its aim of depicting the anti-government protests as the work of foreign powers.
“When the ‘conspiracy’ has been fully exposed, I expect this to finish with a grand and generous pardon from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Guide,” said one, Bernard Hourcade.
He said that the Tehran leadership was in chaos and it was hard to predict the outcome of the power struggle.