France denies deal to release 'spy' from Iran

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The Independent Online

France has denied cutting a deal with Iran to secure the release of Clotilde Reiss, a French academic charged with spying after last year's anti-government protests and detained in Tehran for 10 months, at first in the notorious Evin prison. Looking happy and relieved, the 24-year-old from Lille arrived back on French soil and paid tribute to two Iranian men who were on trial with her.

"I am thinking chiefly of two men who were executed in January 2010 and who were pretty much at my sides during the public trial," she said. "They treated me like a sister. I am thinking about them because I was overwhelmed by their stories. Now that I am free in my country, my thoughts turn to them."

Ms Reiss was arrested as she prepared to board a flight leaving Iran on 1 July, having worked for five months at a university in Isfahan. She spent 45 days in Evin prison, where she was charged with acting against national security by participating in the June protests that followed the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, collecting information and sending pictures of the demonstrations abroad.

She pleaded not guilty and was released on bail on condition that she stay at the French embassy pending a verdict. She was convicted of provoking unrest and spying, but her lawyer said the 10-year jail term had been commuted to a fine of three billion rials (£206,000), which was paid on Saturday.

After being reunited with her family, Ms Reiss was whisked to the Elysée Palace. "I am very, very happy to be back in my country, to be free again," she told reporters after meeting President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla.

"I want to thank everyone who has supported me in this ordeal, starting with the President, for his support and for defending my innocence from the moment I was arrested," she said.

President Sarkozy thanked the Brazilian President, Lula de Silva, the Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, and Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, for their "active role" in the release of the young Frenchwoman.

Less than two weeks ago, Paris refused to extradite to Washington an Iranian accused in the US of illegally buying technology online intended for sale to the Iranian military. Majid Kakavand, who was arrested by French authorities in March 2009 at the request of the US, returned to Tehran last week, a move welcomed by Iran as "a positive point in Franco-Iranian relations".

Tomorrow, an Iranian prisoner serving life in France for the 1991 murder of the former Iranian prime minister, Shahpour Bakhtiar, is expected to win parole then be expelled back to Iran.

France's Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, denied widespread speculation that there was a link between these decisions and Ms Reiss's freedom. "There was no horse trading," Mr Kouchner told French radio.

Tehran also denied any link. Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said: "Ms Reiss's release has nothing to do with Mr Kakavand's release."

Read the full FCO statement on Reiss' return