In March and April 2022, a series of nationwide protests and gatherings of teachers took place in Iran. Every week, teachers, joined by supporting students, staged sit-in protests for their union demands. Their list of demands included the right to free education and the right to education in the mother tongue. Other demands included those concerning their pay, such as insurance premiums and pay scales, and the release of imprisoned teachers.
In the meantime, security forces heavily controlled the teachers’ protest sit-ins, during which many teachers and teachers’ union activists were arrested for their peaceful protest. Later on, security forces began fabricating security scenarios for the detained teachers. One of these made up scenarios was the accusation of “collaboration with French spies.”
By “French spies,” security forces identified a woman named Cécile Kohler, a French national and educator who heads the National Federation of Education, Culture and Vocational Training (FNEC FP-FO), as well as her husband, Jacques Paris. The two had traveled to Iran as tourists during the French school holidays, not on behalf of the organisation.
A “documentary” broadcasted by state TV showed some well-known teachers’ rights activists, such as Iskandar (Soran) Lotfi, Masoud Nikkhah, Shaban Mohammadi, Rasoul Bodaghi, Mohammad Habibi, and Reza Shahabi, among the activists of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. The “documentary” accused these activists of “connecting with foreign forces.” At the same time, Tasnim news agency, a source close to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris of trying to “organise chaos” and “disorder” in a published report.
Zamaneh talked to Noémie Kohler, Cécile’s sister, on the latest situation of these two French nationals. Noémie Kohler says that in the last 11 months since her sister was arrested, she has only been able to call her parents twice. The French government has referred to them as state hostages.
Cécile and Jacques are not the only French hostages in Iran, Benjamin Briere are other French prisoners in Iran who face similar charges.
Cecile Kohler and her husband are detained for 319 days in Iran.
Zamaneh: What do we know about the latest development in the arrest of Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris? Have you had any contact with your sister or Mr. Paris?
Noémie Kohler: After their arrest in May, we did receive any news from them for months. We didn’t even know where they were being held. All requests for consular visits were denied or cancelled at the last minute. The first sign of life we got from them in five months was this terrible false confession video.
After this, we decided to create a support committee and start speaking to the media. We gave a press conference on the 22nd of November. The day after, Cécile and Jacques got their first, and only, so far, consular visit. We know now that they are in section 209 in Evin prison and that they have both spent several months in solitary confinement.
My sister only had two phone calls with my parents so far. She was under high surveillance during both calls, and she couldn’t speak freely. We have very little information about the conditions of her detention. We know she has some cellmates now, but they change all the time. She can only go out of her cell into the prison yard three times a week. She is also suffering because she doesn’t have news from Jacques. She’s only had one book to read in more than 10 months of detention…
How has their case developed so far? Have they been given access to legal counsel? Do they have lawyers? Are the French consular services in Iran providing them with any support?
It is very hard to obtain concrete information because my sister and her partner have only had one consular visit so far, four months ago. The independent lawyers we hired for them do not have access to them nor their case files. We don’t know what the exact charges against them are. We know nothing about a potential trial. The situation seems to be completely blocked.
The French consular services try their best to give them the goods we send, and to obtain consular visits, but with no success. The last consular visit scheduled was, once again, cancelled at the very last minute. Cécile and Jacques seem to be completely isolated from the outside world. We are extremely concerned about their health after almost one year of such social and material deprivation. They must be released with no delay.
What measures has the French government taken so far for their release?
The French government denounced Iran’s hostage diplomacy of French citizens. They have assured us that they are fully mobilised to obtain the release of all the French hostages in Iran. We hope they will keep their efforts at a maximum until our loved ones come back home. As families, we are very well surrounded by the French authorities, and we have regular contact with them.
Have they been tortured and ill-treated during the period of their detention?
They have spent several months in solitary confinement. They were forced to make false confessions on the official Iranian TV. They are subjected to very high psychological pressure. They suffer from social and material deprivation. We have very little reliable information about their detention, but the testimonies of former hostages or detainees are not reassuring.