France advises nationals visiting Iran to leave

The French government on Friday advised its nationals visiting Iran to “leave the country as soon as possible”, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

“All French visitors, including dual nationals, are exposed to a high risk of arrest, arbitrary detention and unfair trial,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website, adding that “this risk also applies to people making a simple tourist visit”.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs then warned that “in the event of arrest or detention, respect for fundamental rights and the safety of persons are not guaranteed” in Iran.

The decision came the day after Iranian state television broadcast what it described as “confessions” by two French nationals, five months after their arrest in the Islamic Republic.

Cécile Kohler, head of the French teachers’ union, and her partner Jacques Paris have been detained in Iran since May 7 and are accused of seeking to stir up social unrest during teachers’ strikes earlier this year.

Iran announced on May 11 the arrest of two Europeans “who entered the country with the aim of creating chaos and destabilizing society”.

The release of the alleged confession comes as Iran grapples with a new wave of women-led protests that erupted on September 16 following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old Iranian Kurd has died after being detained for allegedly breaking the country’s strict rules on how women should dress.

Iran said on Friday an inquest into Amini’s death in custody found she lost her life to illness rather than the reported beatings that sparked three weeks of bloody protests.

Besides Kohler and Paris, two other French nationals are currently being held in Iran.

One is Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in June 2019 and then sentenced to five years in prison for undermining national security, allegations that her family has firmly denied.

Another French citizen, Benjamin Brière, was arrested in May 2020 and then sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for espionage, charges he denies.

They are among more than 20 Westerners, most with dual nationality, detained or prevented from leaving Iran.

Rights groups accuse Tehran of practicing a kind of hostage diplomacy with the detainees, using them as a negotiating tool with the outside world, but Iran rejects these accusations.

“The capacity of the French Embassy in Tehran to provide consular protection for nationals arrested or detained in Iran is very limited,” warned the French Foreign Ministry website.

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