French citizen Cécile Kohler (left) and her husband Jacques Paris

France Denounces 'State Hostage-Taking' by Iran

Wednesday, 05/08/2024

The French government on Tuesday accused Iran of adopting a policy of "state hostage-taking" and "blackmail," intensifying calls for the release of a French couple detained for the past two years.

The condemnation by France highlights a rare and escalating conflict between Iran and Western nations over detained foreign nationals.

Cecile Kohler, a teacher and head of the National Federation of Education, Culture and Vocational Training (FNEC FP-FO), and her partner Jacques Paris, also a member of the same trade union, were arrested on May 8, 2022. They are accused by Iranian authorities of inciting labor protests, charges both their families and the French government deny. The couple had traveled to Iran as tourists, visiting Tehran, Kashan, and Isfahan before their arrest while attempting to return to Paris from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport.

"France condemns this policy of state hostage-taking and this constant blackmail by the Iranian authorities," stated the French foreign ministry. The strong stance comes as activists continue to point out Iran's pattern of detaining Western nationals to leverage concessions.

Apart from Kohler and Paris, other French citizens detained in Iran include Olivier, known only by his first name, and Louis Arnaud, a banking consultant sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges. France's foreign ministry reiterated its call for their "immediate and unconditional release" and extended its concerns to all European nationals facing what it described as "absurd charges" in Iranian custody.

The ministry also condemned the Iranian practice of airing forced confessions, a tactic Kohler and Paris were subjected to following their arrest. The method of coercion and the sham trials are seen as part of a broader strategy by Iran, criticized internationally for its judicial processes.

While several foreign prisoners, including five Americans, have been released in recent months through diplomatic negotiations, European citizens continue to be held. Among them are German citizen Jamshid Sharmahd and Swedish national Ahmadreza Djalali, both facing the death penalty under charges their families and international observers claim are baseless.

Sharmahd, a 69-year-old California resident, was abducted in 2020 while in the United Arab Emirates and later sentenced to death by Iran on allegations of leading a pro-monarchist group linked to a 2008 bombing. Despite prior arrests and convictions related to the incident, Sharmahd’s charges are maintained without substantive evidence, drawing criticism from human rights organizations like Amnesty International for the lack of fair trial standards.

Swedish EU diplomat Johan Floderus is another high-profile detainee, facing possible death sentences on disputed spying charges. This comes amid heightened tensions following the life imprisonment in Sweden of former Iranian prison official Hamid Nouri for his involvement in mass executions during the 1980s in Iran.

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