On May 11th, Iran announced that it had arrested two European nationals for allegedly attempting to sow chaos and “de-stabilize the country,” according to France 24. French authorities eventually ascertained that the arrested are Cecile Kohler, an education union international representative, and her partner, who went missing while on vacation in Iran. The Iranian government accused the detained of encouraging chaos and violence within teacher protests that have swept the country the past two years, reported ABC News. It is unknown if Kohler and her partner had any involvement with teachers’ unions in Iran.
A Swedish citizen was likewise detained in Iran one week prior – the same week the trial of Hamid Noury, a former Iranian prison official accused of war crimes, concluded in Stockholm.
The French embassy in Tehran has been lobbying authorities to release the detainees. In a statement published by France 24, the French foreign ministry said, “The French government condemns this baseless arrest. It calls for the immediate release of these two French nationals.”
Iran has a long history of detaining European and American citizens, leading human rights groups to accuse the country of using these prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations. This may be the case in this instance, as the arrests occurred the same week E.U. envoy Enrique Mora visited Tehran to discuss the stalled Iran Nuclear Deal.
The Iran Nuclear Deal was first signed in 2015 and provided relief for sanctions against Iran in exchange for strict control of Iran’s nuclear energy. In 2018, US President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal and Iran subsequently began ignoring the deal’s provisions, such as allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to observe nuclear facilities.
The U.S. and E.U. have been trying to revive the deal since 2021. However, talks stalled in mid-March of 2022 after the U.S. refused to remove the Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the Iranian military which protects the Islamic republic’s political system, from its terrorist list. A bipartisan majority of politicians in the U.S. Senate refuse to support a deal that does not address Iran’s involvement in terrorism in the Middle East, leading to an impasse.
Enrique Mora has not disclosed the details of his visit to Tehran beyond saying he is “hopeful,” according to the Washington Post.
Iran should not use release of detained foreigners in its negotiations over the Iran Nuclear Deal, nor as retaliation for actions in other countries. The international diplomatic community must do everything it can to ensure that these European prisoners are released and kept out of any deal within the agreement. European and American citizens should also avoid travel to Iran, as Iran has demonstrated its disregard for human rights and due process of the law on numerous occasions.
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