Protests raised as France sends home jailed Iranians

January 04, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- France timed the announcement for the eve of the long New Year's weekend, it gave "national interest" as the reason for its decision, and it promised no further explanation for its decision to send home two jailed Iranians who were wanted for murder in Switzerland.

Yet, for all its efforts to keep attention away from the case, the deportation of the two men to Iran last week -- instead of their mandated extradition to Switzerland -- has brought angry protests from French newspapers, opposition parties and Iranian exiles, as well as from the Swiss government.

Mohsen Sharif Esfahani, 37, and Ahmad Taheri, 32, were facing charges of murdering Kazem Rajavi, the brother of the leader of the exiled People's Mujahedeen organization, near Geneva in April 1990. After their arrest in Paris in November 1992, a French court approved their extradition to Switzerland.

The Swiss charge d'affaires, Christian Dunant, who delivered a diplomatic note Friday accusing France of violating European extradition accords, said his government was "astonished at the behavior of France and regrets it very much."

The opposition Socialist Party in France accused the rightist government of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of "incoherence and deplorable inconsistency."

Le Monde said, "Appearing to cave in to the threat of terrorism is certainly not the best way to fight it."

A former Iranian president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who lives in exile in Paris, said he was "shocked and indignant" over the French decision. A spokesman for the People's Mujahedeen said, "The more concessions the West makes to Tehran, the more terrorist blackmail they will exercise."

The French minister for European affairs, Alain Lamassoure, insisted that Switzerland "understands" the reasons for the French decision and that other jailed Iranians would be tried in France. He added that France did not have "any lessons to learn from anyone" about fighting terrorism.

The French action has nonetheless thrown the spotlight anew on France's readiness to make occasional goodwill gestures to the Iranian government. The Socialists followed a similar policy before losing power in March.

In July 1990, President Francois Mitterrand pardoned Anis Naccache, who led a failed attempt to kill a former Iranian prime minister, Shahpur Bakhtiar, in Paris 10 years earlier. Soon after Mr. Naccache was freed, there were signs of an improvement in relations between Paris and Tehran.

But in August 1991, Mr. Bakhtiar was knifed to death in Paris. Five months later, two Iranians who were arrested in Switzerland were extradited to France and charged with "complicity with murder." Their trial is scheduled for this year.

The decision to send Mr. Esfahani and Mr. Taheri home last week may have been linked to France's agreement to grant exile last month to Maryam Rajavi, whose husband, Massoud, heads the People's Mujahedeen. The next day, grenades were thrown at an Air France office and into the garden of the French Embassy in Tehran.

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