Iran: French academic arrives home after spying conviction
A French teaching assistant whom the Iranian regime accused of spying for the west said she was "very, very happy" to be back on home turf today after a Tehran court commuted a prison sentence that had kept her in Iran for 10 months. Making a brief but emotional statement at the Elysée palace, Clotilde Reiss, 24, thanked various French and Iranian figures – including the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy – for supporting her through the ordeal and securing her release.
But she said her relief was tainted with grief for fellow inmates of Tehran's notorious Evin prison who had not escaped with their lives. "I am thinking chiefly of two men who were executed in January 2010 and who were at my sides during the public trial that you all saw on the television," she said. "Now that I am free in my country, my thoughts are with them."
Reiss's release was rubber-stamped yesterday when her two five-year jail sentences were commuted to a fine of 3bn rials (£210,000), bringing to an end a period of fluctuating tensions between France and Iran over her conviction on espionage charges.
Arrested in July last year during a period of mass protests against the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Isfahan University French language assistant was accused of spying as part of a western plot.
Found to have attended a demonstration and sent photographs of Iran to contacts at home, Reiss was put on trial with more than 100 others accused of trying to topple the regime and spent a month and a half in Evin before she was freed on bail and transferred to the French embassy. France always insisted the case against her was fantastical.
France and Iran were keen to avoid suggestions the release was part of a deal. But Ahmadinejad was quoted last December as saying Reiss's fate depended on the "attitude of France's leaders". Furthermore, observers pointed out that it came days after a French court refused to extradite Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand to the United States and some 48 hours before a French judge is due to decide whether to free Ali Vakili Rad, one of three men convicted of killing former Iranian prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar.
After hearing the sentences were to be commuted, Reiss's lawyer said the fine came "close to an acquittal".
Shortly after the Farsi-speaking academic touched down at an airbase near Paris and headed directly to the Elysée palace for a meeting with Sarkozy, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said he thanked "all those who helped France" to bring her home.
Kouchner denied there had been "any haggling" or "quid pro quo" involved in freeing Reiss. "This succession of judicial decisions ... has nothing to do with potential haggling," he told French radio. Tehran also rejected any link.
Sunday 16 May 2010 11.22 BST
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