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France says two of its citizens detained in Iran, calls for their immediate release

Day after Iranians said they arrested two Europeans for plotting ‘instability,’ Paris reveals the pair are its nationals, condemns the detention

People hold placards during a rally in Paris for French citizen Benjamin Briere, a tourist who has been jailed in Iran for nearly two years, January 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant)
People hold placards during a rally in Paris for French citizen Benjamin Briere, a tourist who has been jailed in Iran for nearly two years, January 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant)

Two French citizens have been detained in Iran, the French foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday, calling for their “immediate release.”

The pair, whom the ministry did not name, are the latest Western nationals to be detained in Iran in what activists argue is a deliberate policy of hostage-taking by the Islamic Republic to extract concessions from the West.

Iran’s intelligence ministry had announced a day earlier that two “Europeans” had been arrested on accusations of seeking to “destabilize the country.” It did not identify the nationality of those held.

The French foreign ministry said that France’s ambassador to Tehran was seeking consular access to the detainees, while it also summoned the Iranian ambassador in Paris.

“The French government condemns these baseless arrests,” said the foreign ministry statement. “It calls for the immediate release of these two French nationals and will remain fully mobilized to this end.”

Christophe Lalande, federal secretary of France’s FNEC FP-FO education union, told Reuters that he suspects the two citizens are a member of his staff and her husband.

The pair have gone missing while on vacation in Iran, he explained. The staff member was due back in France earlier this week.

Though admitting no “absolute certainty,” Lalande said there was a “strong presumption” that they were being held.

Illustrative: A prison in Iran. (CC BY-SA Ehsan Iran/Wikipedia)

The Iranian intelligence ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the two Europeans it was holding planned to turn routine demands by various social and professional groups into “chaos, social disorder and instability.”

The statement alleged the two are “professional expert” agents that were hired by a European country’s intelligence apparatus. It said the ministry had been pursuing them from “the moment of arrival” and that all their relations with the “illegal Council of Teachers League” were documented.

The developments come as Iran is in the midst of negotiations with world powers to revive a faltering 2015 nuclear pact it signed with world powers, including France.

Iran has long faced allegations it uses its arrests as bargaining chips with the West. Tehran denies that.

Even after the recent high-profile release of British former detainees Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, activists believe at least a dozen Western nationals remain held in Iran.

They include French tourist Benjamin Briere, who was arrested in Iran in May 2020 and has been jailed in the Islamic Republic ever since, and Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who was sentenced to death in 2017 on charges of espionage for Israel that are vehemently denied by his family.

Iranian media have reported that he is due to be executed by May 21.

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