Protest targets French
The French Embassy is under siege from Iranians protesting the arrest of Iranian opposition members in Paris and from Congress, where anger is growing over reports that France might deport them to Iran.
Sen. Sam Brownback wrote French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, accusing France of “doing the dirty work” for the repressive theocracy in Iran.
The Kansas Republican, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on South Asia, last week called on Mr. Levitte to urge his government to stop the prosecution of more than two dozen members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
In Iran yesterday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government expects France to extradite the opposition members. However, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman last week said European Union law prevents France from extraditing anyone to a country where he may face the death penalty.
Mr. Brownback fears France could extradite them to another country, which then would send them to Iran.
France last week detained about 160 members of the Iranian coalition, which included members of the People’s Mujahideen, or Mujahideen Khalq, on suspicion they were planning to use France as a base to plan the military overthrow of the Iranian regime. Twenty-six are still being held, including Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the resistance council.
The State Department lists the People’s Mujahideen as a terrorist organization, although the group has many supporters in Congress who consider them freedom fighters.
In addition to Mr. Brownback, Reps. William Lacy Clay, Missouri Democrat; Dennis Moore, Kansas Democrat; Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican; and Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, have written French President Jacques Chirac to protest the arrests.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, expressed her support for Mrs. Rajavi.
“I am very disturbed when a voice who is seeking, among other things, people’s freedom and just treatment has been arrested or taken into custody,” she said.
A French Embassy spokesman declined to comment yesterday on the letter, but said the demonstrations have not disrupted the embassy.
Mr. Brownback told the ambassador, “It should be made crystal clear that such an action [extradition] will result in the certain death of these individuals as reprisal for political criticism and revealing sensitive information about Iran’s nuclear program.
“I urge the nation of France, which has long prided itself on being a protector of human rights and freedom of expression, to live up to its ideal and avoid action that would put it in league with the terrorist state of Iran.”
Mr. Brownback reminded Mr. Levitte that the United States “shares [Frances] concerns about the People’s Mujahideen group.”
“But no group of people deserves the fate you are considering,” he added. “By handing these people to the Iranian regime, you may incur some short-term favor in Tehran, but you will most certainly lose respect around the world. …
“I urge you not to turn your back on your country’s own rich tradition of supporting freedom by doing the dirty work of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Outside the French Embassy in Georgetown, demonstrators have been on a hunger strike since last week, demanding the unconditional release of Mrs. Rajavi. The round-the-clock protest has drawn an average of 100 demonstrators a day, organizer Ramesh Sepehrrad said.
“Iranians call upon the democratic governments of the world to stand by the millions of Iranians and their resistance movement against the terrorist regime of Iran and its dirty plots in France,” she said.
Ms. Sepehrrad said protests also are being held outside French consulates in Denver, Houston and Los Angeles, and in Canada at the French Embassy in Ottawa and consulates in Toronto and Vancouver.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has canceled a news conference scheduled for Thursday at the National Press Club.
Gen. Musharraf, who meets President Bush today, still plans to address the U.S. Institute of Peace tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the press club announced that Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, will hold a 3 p.m. news conference today to discuss the proposed constitution of the European Union.
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