A French lecturer and two Iranian employees of the British and French embassies unexpectedly appeared among defendants in a mass trial hearing in an Iranian court on Saturday.
Along with about 10 other people, they faced charges linked to protests that followed the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election, Iranian news agencies said.
The French foreign ministry called for the “immediate release” of the lecturer and the embassy staff member, while British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the trial was the “latest Iranian provocation.”
French academic Clotilde Reiss, who turned 24 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on July 31, was arrested on July 1 as she tried to fly home.
“She is accused of collecting information and provoking rioters,” the prosecution was quoted as saying as Reiss, wearing blue jeans, dark coat and a colorful scarf, sat in the front row with a policewoman alongside.
Fellow defendant Nazak Afshar, from the French embassy’s cultural section, was also in court. The hearing was not open to foreign media.
State TV said both Reiss and Afshar played an “active role in the unrest by giving information to foreign embassies.”
IRNA news agency said Reiss admitted reporting on post-election protests in the central city of Isfahan.
“I wrote a one-page report and submitted it to ... the cultural department of the French embassy,” it quoted her as telling the judge.
“I was planning to leave Iran, but I took part in rallies of June 15 and 17 in Tehran and took photographs and film. I did this out of curiosity and to be aware of the political situation. I wanted to know what was happening,” she said.
ISNA news agency quoted Reiss as saying she sent e-mails about the demonstrations to friends and family members.
The report quoted her as telling the judge: “I ask Iran, its people and the court to forgive me. I hope I will be pardoned.”
Afshar told the court that she and other staffers had been told to shelter post-election protesters, IRNA said.
“In the event that confrontations occurred in front of the cultural department of the embassy, we were told to offer refuge to protesters if they asked,” Afshar said.
Also facing charges was British embassy local staffer Hossein Rassam, who was detained in Tehran along with eight embassy colleagues. They were later freed, while he was released on bail. IRNA said he was accused of spying.
“You along with Arash Momenian were given the duty of meeting representatives of political groups, ethnic and religious minorities, and student groups and to relay the news of Iran’s riots to London,” the news agency quoted the prosecutor as saying.
Rassam was quoted as telling the court: “The victory of Mr Ahmadinejad was shocking for the British embassy, and in our first report to London we stressed claims made by one candidate about fraud” in the election.
He was reported as saying that British diplomats, including two expelled later, had attended protests in Tehran and that “the ambassador along with the charge d’affaires took part in witnessing a rally of Mousavi supporters.”
Both Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and reformist former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have denounced the trials.
The EU presidency urged Iran to release Reiss, Afshar and Rassam soon, calling their trial an act against the whole EU.