French woman heads home after Iran trial

Nov 30, -0001
PARIS: A French teaching assistant who was arrested in Iran 10 months ago on spying charges headed home on Sunday after a Tehran court commuted her prison term and gave her back her passport.

Clotilde Reiss, 24, was accused of aiding a Western plot to topple Iran's clerical regime after taking part in anti-government demonstrations last June following the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Her lawyer said on Saturday that a court had sentenced her to parallel 5-year prison terms, but commuted this to a fine of $285,000, letting her leave the country, much to the relief of France which had always proclaimed her innocence.

Reiss was due to arrive in Paris on a French government plane around 1000 GMT and was scheduled to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace at 1100 GMT.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hailed her release and accused Iran of having held her hostage. "We have waited for Clotilde for a long time," he told Radio J.

Her release came less than two weeks after France refused to extradite to the United States an Iranian engineer, accused by Washington of illegally buying equipment for military use.

In addition, an Iranian serving life in a French jail for the 1991 murder of a former Iranian prime minister, is expected to win parole on Tuesday and be immediately expelled.

Kouchner denied that there was any link between these decisions, saying the French justice system was independent.

"There was no horse trading," Kouchner told Radio J.

"There is no connection between these two Iranian cases, which were dealt with by the French justice system, and the freedom of our hostage," he added.


Reiss was arrested as she prepared to leave Iran on July 1, having worked at a university in the central city of Isfahan.

She was initially held in a Tehran jail and charged with acting against national security by taking part in post-election protests, collecting information and sending pictures of the demonstrations abroad.

She was later released on bail and stayed at the French embassy pending the verdict.

Reiss was among thousands of people detained during the unrest. Most have since been freed, though dozens have been sentenced to up to 16 years in jail and two people were hanged in January. At least nine others are appealing death sentences.

Western powers fear Tehran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and are negotiating a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran. Tehran says its nuclear work is solely for the generation of electricity. AGENCIES



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