the relatives of two French hostages tell us about “anguish” and “hope” for 2 years

the relatives of two French hostages tell us about “anguish” and “hope” for 2 years
the relatives of two French hostages tell us about “anguish” and “hope” for 2 years
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THOMAS SAMSON / AFP The faces of Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris during a demonstration of support in Paris, May 14, 2023.

THOMAS SAMSON / AFP

The faces of Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris during a demonstration of support in Paris, May 14, 2023.

IRAN – Noémie Kohler and Marie-Brigitte Huet share an immeasurable number of concerns, but also a conviction: one day, the sister of the first, Cécile Kohler, and the friend of the second, Jacques Paris, will come out of the Iranian prison in which they have been locked up since May 7, 2022. This conviction and these concerns have been part of their daily lives for two years, to the day, and now coexist with a whole “mixture of feelings”.

“That’s all we have, we cling to it. And at the same time, we don’t see the end. In the long run, it wears out”, breathes Noémie Kohler. His sister Cécile, a modern literature teacher in Yvelines, was arrested with her companion Jacques Paris, a retired mathematics teacher, at the end of a tourist trip to Iran. Suspected of being spies, they are considered by France as “state hostages” (just like Louis Arnaud and another Frenchman, whose identity has not been revealed).

“There are moments of hope, when we overinterpret small signsattempts to analyze Marie-Brigitte Huet, one of the founders of the Jacques Paris support committee, contacted by HuffPost. And then, we say to ourselves that in fact, we might be making cinema. »

A few minutes of WhatsApp video

Among these “signs” that she wants to see, the more regular frequency, for around eight months, of the phone calls that Jacques Paris can make from Evin prison, in Tehran. These WhatsApp video calls, which only last a handful of minutes and are always “very supervised”now take place approximately once a month. “It is perhaps a softening of his conditions of detention and a call from the Iranian authoritiesshe wants to believe. If this is the case, I hope that the French government will respond to this call. »

Marie-Brigitte Huet, a retired German teacher, has not had contact with her former colleague, whom she met 36 years ago in the corridors of the Clemenceau high school in Nantes, since her arrest. When the latter can telephone, he calls his family – who wishes to remain discreet –, with whom she is in contact ” constant “.

“The connection is very poor, there are cuts, lagsdescribes Noémie Kohler, who was able to speak to her sister. Most of the time, this prevents us from communicating properly. » So the conversations focus on the essentials: the news of a great-nephew, the health of a grandmother. And the mobilization to get them out. “There is nothing worse, when you are locked up, than believing that no one is thinking about you. What we do may seem symbolic, but sometimes symbols are important”underlines Marie-Brigitte Huet.

During these calls, we do not talk about current events and the recent increase in tensions between Israel and Iran, even if the subject “deeply distressed” Noémie Kohler, who launched an online petition for her sister. “We are hung up on the news and we follow what is happening with great attention. The situation is more and more unstable and our loved ones are in more and more danger”she worries.

Cells of 9 m², without “real bed”

Cécile and Jacques are held in section 209 of Evin prison, a high security area with a sinister reputation, where political prisoners are locked up. They were separated there – one with the women, the other with the men – but their conditions are similar: after several months of isolation – “a form of torture”, for Noémie Kohler – everyone lives in a 9 m² cell, with two to four other people, without “real bed, just blankets, no chair, no table”and the ” language barrier “ with some “fellow inmates who change all the time”.

“In two years, my sister’s situation has changed very littleregrets Noémie. Usually, during her calls, she makes a point of showing us that she is holding on, that she is strong. But there, we felt serious signs of exhaustion. »

No one among those close to the two hostages knows the status of the investigation launched by the Iranian regime… or even if there is indeed a “investigation, in quotes”. In two years, the teachers – who do not have access to independent lawyers – received three very short visits from the French ambassador to Iran. Their entourage is taken care of by the Quai d’Orsay, which does not “reveals nothing behind the scenes”.

Dune And The Odyssey of Homer

In this fog, families and friends saw a few lights. In February 2023, first, when the release of the Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in 2019, was announced. Then on May 12, 2023, when the French Benjamin Brière and the Franco-Irish Bernard Phelan were in turn released , after respectively 3 years and seven months of detention. “It was a great relief, a great joyrelates Noémie Kohler. When one is released, it gives us hope and shows us that it is possible. It’s a breath of fresh air. »

Since his return to France, Benjamin Brière has helped loved ones in their fight, and in particular Noémie Kohler. “By happy coincidence, he came to settle in Lyon, where I also live”, she confides. Tears in her voice when she talks about the story “upsetting” of the ex-hostage in the show Correspondentshe does not have enough laudatory words to speak of this 38-year-old man, “deeply kind” And ” very present “.

“It gives us a window into what our loved ones can experience, and that is extremely valuable, she explains. It also helps us to anticipate their return, to answer the questions we ask ourselves on a psychological, emotional and material level. What will they need? What can we start preparing for them? Projecting ourselves helps us to hold on. »

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To find time to devote to her fight, Noémie Kohler, a 34-year-old graphic designer, started her own business. “It became impossible to manage life as an employee at the same time as the situation”she says. “There are days that are almost entirely devoted to this”echoes Marie-Brigitte Huet, surrounded by around thirty people within the committee for the organization of events, press interviews or even approaches to elected officials or personalities.

The group also sent books to Jacques Paris, through the French ambassador. Dune by Franck Herbert, or The Book of Numbers by Hervé Lehning, for this mathematics associate. Cécile Kohler received The Odyssey of Homer and practices learning passages by heart. As if to appropriate, through Ulysses, the story of a return home.

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