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Frenchwoman, embassy staffers on trial in Iran

| Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009

TEHRAN, Iran -- A young French academic and local staff of the British and French embassies stood trial Saturday with dozens of Iranian opposition figures and confessed to being involved in the country's post-election unrest.

Iran's opposition and rights groups have condemned the trial as a sham and say such confessions are coerced and scripted. Britain, which seemed caught off guard by the appearance of its embassy employee, called it an outrage, while France demanded the immediate release of its citizen.

Yesterday's second hearing at Tehran's Revolutionary Court involved a new group of detainees and focused on testimony from the French academic and the two other foreign-linked defendants, demonstrating the government's resolve to taint Iran's pro-reform movement as a tool of foreign countries -- particularly Britain and the United States.

The prosecutor accused the two countries of fomenting the unrest in an attempt to engineer a "soft overthrow" of the government.

The defendants are accused of crimes including rioting, spying and plotting to overthrow the regime during the massive street demonstrations denouncing the official results of the June 12 election.

The prosecutor read out an indictment at yesterday's session that accuses Britain and the United States of planning to rouse the unrest with the aim of toppling Iran's Islamic rulers through a "soft overthrow," the IRNA news agency reported. The indictment also accused the two powers of providing financial assistance to Iran's reformists to undermine hard-line ruling clerics.

Seated in the front row of the courtroom with a scarf over her hair was 24-year-old French academic Clotilde Reiss, who reportedly was arrested July 1 at Tehran airport.

According to IRNA, she told the court that she made a mistake by attending a demonstration.

"I had personal motives for joining gatherings to see what was happening out of curiosity, but I admit that I made a mistake and should not have attended," IRNA quoted her as saying.

Reiss has been charged with acting against national security by joining protests, gathering information, taking photos and sending them abroad.

The French Foreign Ministry yesterday called for Reiss' immediate release, saying the charges against her are without basis.

Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, expressed concern over the trials and noted that actions against one EU country -- citizen or embassy staff -- is considered action against all EU member states.

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