A French student who was held for ten months in Tehran on spying charges flew home to a heroine’s welcome from President Sarkozy today, as Paris denied that it had struck any deal for her release.
Clotilde Reiss, 25, was allowed to leave Tehran after she was convicted and given a £210,000 fine for taking part in a supposed Western plot to undermine the Iranian State. She was arrested last July after attending anti-government demonstrations at Isfahan, where she had spent the year as an assistant university teacher.
After six weeks in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Ms Reiss, a scholar of Iranian history and language, was tried and confined to the French Embassy pending a verdict. Her case was complicated by Mr Sarkozy’s hard line towards Iran over its development of nuclear technology.
Paris, which sent a government jet to fetch Ms Reiss from Dubai, insisted that she was an innocent victim of the Tehran Government’s repressive policies. Her self-possessed conduct during her televised trial won her admiration in France.
Ms Reiss thanked Mr Sarkozy “for defending my innocence” after she was driven from the Villacoublay airbase, near Paris, to the Elysée Palace for a 20-minute meeting with the President.
The release, after months of behind-the-scenes contacts, came five days after France refused an American request to extradite Majid Kakavand, an Iranian businessman who is wanted in the US for evading export controls and buying technology that could be used in Iranian missiles. His release and subsequent return to Tehran prompted speculation of a deal over Ms Reiss.
Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister, denied that there was any “quid pro quo trading” over her case. A test will come on Tuesday when Paris judges rule on the possible early release of Ali Vakili Rad, who was convicted of murdering Shahpour Bakhtiar, an exiled Iranian politician, at his home outside Paris in 1991.
Rad has applied for expulsion from France after completing the 18-year minimum term of his life sentence for strangling and stabbing Bakhtiar, the last Prime Minister of the late Shah, as part of a three-man hit team from the Iranian secret service.
Last autumn President Ahmadinejad publicly suggested that Iran and France exchange prisoners held in each other’s jails. After receiving Ms Reiss Mr Sarkozy thanked Presidents Lula of Brazil, President Wade of Senegal and President al-Assad of Syria for intervening with Tehran to win her freedom.
Honestly, I'm just posting because it showed up on my Brazil alert and