By Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
DUBAI (Reuters) -France lashed out at Iran for “dictatorial practices” and taking two of its citizens hostage after a video aired on Thursday in which they appeared to confess to spying, amid weeks of unrest that Tehran has tied to foreign foes.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said in May it had arrested two Europeans for allegedly fomenting “insecurity” in Iran. France has condemned their arrest and demanded the immediate release of Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris.
Iran’s state media often air purported confessions by suspects in politically charged cases.
“I am Cecile Kohler, I am an intelligence and operations agent at the DGSE (Directorate General for External Security) … We were in Iran to prepare the ground for the revolution and the overthrow of the regime of Islamic Iran,” Kohler said in the video, while wearing a headscarf, refering to the French external intelligence service.
The video sparked outrage in Paris with Foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre saying for the first time that the two citizens, along with two others also being held in Iran, were “state hostages”.
“The staging of their alleged confessions is outrageous, appalling, unacceptable and contrary to international law. This masquerade reveals the contempt for human dignity that characterizes the Iranian authorities,” Legendre said in one France’s statements on Iran in several years.
“These alleged confessions extracted under duress have no basis, nor did the reasons given for their arbitrary arrest.
State TV said the French couple had entered Iran with “chunks of money … which was meant to fund strikes and demonstrations.”
“Our goal at the French security service is to pressure the government of Iran,” said Jacques Paris in the video.
The French couple’s appearance on TV coincides with weeks of anti-government protests in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody last month. It also comes a day after a debate in the French senate in which all political parties condemned Iran’s crackdown and backed the government to toughen its stance on Tehran.
France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna last week summoned Iran’s top diplomat in Paris and said on Tuesday she expected the EU to impose sanctions in the coming weeks on Tehran.
“Such manipulations and practices, worthy of the show trials of the worst dictatorial regimes, will not distract international attention from the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people,” Legendre said.
Ties between the two countries have deteriorated in recent weeks as talks to revive nuclear talks in which Paris is one of the parties have stalled. Neither country currently has an ambassador in place.
The International Federation for Human Rights and London-based Justice for Iran said in a report in 2020 that Iranian state media have aired more than 355 forced confessions in the previous decade. Iranian officials reject such accusations.
Four French citizens are jailed in Iran while France is assessing whether another one may have been arrested during the nationwide protests. Iran said last month that nine Europeans had been arrested during the unrest.
Western countries, including France, have repeatedly accused Iran’s clerical rulers of holding their citizens arbitrarily.
The nationwide protests have received wide international support, prompting Tehran to lash out at its critics by accusing the United States and Israel of exploiting the unrest to try to destabilise the Islamic Republic.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)