More than 365 days have passed since French citizen Louis Arnaud was imprisoned in the high-security Evin prison in Tehran. For his parents, the wait has been agonising.
On 28 September 2022, Louis Arnaud was arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Tehran. The 35 year old financial consultant was on a round-the-world backpacking trip.
Louis' parents, Sylvie and Jean-Michel Arnaud, recall the agonising moment they received a phone call from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We felt shock, then instant worry followed by anxiety. We knew this was not just any country - but Iran we were dealing with”, his father Jean-Michel Arnaud told Euronews.
How it all happened
“We hadn’t heard from our son in a few days but we weren't worried as he warned us he was going to the mountains where there was limited phone signal. He assured us he was staying away from the protests”, his mother Sylvie Arnaud told Euronews.
Two weeks after hearing about his arrest, Sylvie remembers her son’s number lighting up her phone screen. She felt a sense of relief - which would be crushed all too quickly.
“He called me on his personal number, which made me think he had been freed. But in fact no, the call was staged and being tapped as well as translated”, she explained.
For the first six months of his incarceration, Louis only called a handful of times, due to being placed in a high security area of the Evin prison.
"We are now able to talk to him more frequently but we know he is protecting us and not telling us the full reality of what it is like over there", added Sylvie.
"None of the accusations are true"
Louis was arrested alongside a group of backpackers he met during his travels.
On the day of his arrest, they had been out celebrating one of the girl's 30th birthdays and after spending an afternoon at a theme park, they headed to an escape game room. But the group's fun was cut short when they were stopped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
The other travellers - of Iranian, Polish and Italian nationality - have all been freed but not Louis.
“He is accused of participating in protests which threaten the security of the state and of contribution to anti-government propaganda. Of course, none of these accusations are true,” his father says.
Louis crossed through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia before arriving in Iran.
He went travelling "to discover other cultures and was a keen traveller", his mother told Euronews. This was Louis' second attempt at a trip around the world, after his first attempt was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An inadequate European response
At a European level the Arnaud family do not feel supported.
“We have contacted several MEPs and so have the families of other Europeans detained in Iran. But this has not amounted to anything. We have also contacted [EU foreign policy chief] Mr Josep Borrell and got no response”, explained Sylvie.
Approximately 12 Europeans - some of whom are dual nationals - are currently imprisoned in Iran. In September, Borrell confirmed a Swedish national who has been imprisoned for over 500 days was in fact an EU diplomat. Europeans have consistenly been used as bargaining chips by Iran.
Other French citizens - Cécile Kohler, Jacques Paris and a Frenchman whose identity has not been revealed - are also imprisoned in Iran.
"It's an interminable wait which nothing can justify. So it's complicated, it's difficult, but you have to keep going. You have to have faith and hope, because we're convinced of one thing - that he will come out. But the big question mark is when?", Louis' father told Euronews.
However, the pair do believe that the French government is doing what it can to free their son. Earlier this year, French prisoners Bernard Phelan and Benjamin Brière were released after respectively spending more than three years and eight months behind bars.
“We’re in touch with the Crisis Centre at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but not very frequently as there isn't always new information to share with us."
"Even if there were ongoing negotiations we were warned that we would not be kept in the loop - it is not a question we can ask about", Louis' father told Euronews.
How is Europe dealing with Iran?
On 12 September, the European Parliament held a debate on the effectiveness of measures against Iran “one year after the murder of Mahsa Amini”.
"The last 12 months marked a clear change in our relations with Iran. We've adopted nine consecutive rounds of sanctions...Our relations with Iran are at a low point, but we need to keep diplomatic channels open", stated Borrell.
Under EU legislation, it is up to the 27 Member States to provide consular assistance and deal with their citizens imprisoned in Iran. They may then request assistance from Brussels to complement these efforts.
But others such as German MEP Hannah Neumann condemned the EU's lack of effective action.
She stated "Mr. Borrell, it's time to clearly spell it out: The EU's Iran policy of the last 44 years has failed. Stop meeting regime representatives! Start meeting the many different people that advocate for a free Iran!".