French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna stressed on Tuesday that her country did not pay anything in exchange for the release of Frenchman Benjamin Briere and Franco-Irish Bernard Phelan, who had both been prisoners in Iran.
Tehran, for its part, explained it took the initiative to release them for “humanitarian reasons” as they were both suffering from illness. They were freed from a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad on May 12.
Asked by a France 2 reporter whether there had been any quid pro quo to the release, Colonna said: “There was none.”
“We have pleaded a lot at different levels with the Iranian authorities given their state of health which was extremely degraded,” she added.
In principle, French authorities refuse to pay a ransom in exchange for the release of their citizens detained abroad.
In the case of Iran, there were seven citizens whom Colonna described, on several occasions, as “state hostages”, demanding their “immediate” release.
With the release of Briere and Phelan, five French citizens still remain imprisoned in Iran. They include Trade Union officials Cecile Kohler and Jacques Paris, who have been detained for over a year. A TV broadcast claimed their affiliation with French intelligence, which Paris described as a “vulgar play”.
The third citizen is Louis Arnauld, who works as a financial advisor. He was arrested in September. The fourth hostage is academic researcher Fariba Adelkhah, who was released in February, but is still banned from leaving Iran.
The anonymity of the fifth French resident is at the request of his family, Colonna said on Tuesday, adding that he was not a secret agent.
It is difficult, due to the absence of confirmed information, to talk about a quid pro quo in the release of the citizens. Colonna has underlined that Paris did not pay anything. However, similar recent events indicate the opposite, including the simultaneous release of French researcher Roland Marchal by Iran - a year after his detention - and freeing of Iranian engineer Jalal Ruhollah Nejad by France on May 20, 2020.
The United States had asked Paris to extradite Ruhollah Nejad for his role in providing Tehran with electronic components used in weapons.
The French judiciary had agreed to extradite him to the United States, but he was soon seen arriving in Tehran. French authorities did not disclose any information about his release.