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Iran indicts two French nationals for spying

Iranian authorities accuse the French citizens, who they have not named, of spying and colluding against national security.
Iran’s judiciary has issued indictments related to espionage against two French citizens and has indicted a Belgian national in a separate case.

The two French citizens were not named, but judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi said at a press conference on Tuesday that they were arrested on charges of spying and collusion against national security. He said a final court ruling had yet to be issued.

He also said an indictment for unspecified charges was issued against an unnamed Belgian national on November 9 and the case was under review at a branch of the Revolutionary Court.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had said in mid-November that two unnamed French nationals had been detained in Iran, bringing the total number of people from France held there to seven.

She made the announcement during Iran’s ongoing protests, which began in September and during which dozens of foreign nationals have been arrested.

Two French nationals, Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris, were arrested in May. Iranian authorities accuse them of spying and trying to foment unrest. Their visit to Iran had come while teachers were holding protests.

In October, Iran’s state television aired “confessions” made by the couple, which the French foreign ministry condemned as they called Kohler and Paris “state hostages”.

The French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to five years on national security charges while another French national, traveller and blogger Benjamin Briere, was arrested in 2020 and sentenced to eight years on spying charges.

Meanwhile, Belgian Olivier Vandecasteele, a former aid worker, has been imprisoned in Iran since February on espionage charges. His family said last month that Vandecasteele has received a jail sentence of 28 years.

The semi-official Tasnim news website on Tuesday quoted an unnamed informed source as saying that a Belgian national has been sentenced to an unspecified punishment. It said the Belgian had entered Iran “under the cover of humanitarian efforts with the aim of spying for the hostile US government and distributing money to groups active in anti-security fields”.

Iran has said 40 foreign nationals have been arrested during “riots” in the past few months. The judiciary spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that they have been arrested in different locations and at different times and did not divulge details about any specific cases.

France, Belgium and several other nations have called on their citizens to leave Iran and refrain from visiting due to concerns that they might be arbitrarily arrested.

Over the years, Tehran has been accused of using arrested dual nationals and foreign citizens as bargaining chips to secure concessions from other countries, something Iran’s government has consistently denied.

Protests erupted across Iran in mid-September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly flouting a mandatory dress code.

Throughout the continuing unrest, Iran has suppressed internet service and VPNs, the virtual private networks that citizens use to circumvent internet restrictions. Foreign-based human rights organisations say more than 500 people have been killed and thousands arrested since the protests began.

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