By Rebecca Harrison
PARIS (Reuters, Tue, 16 Oct 9:03) - Eighty-four years after France shot the legendary striptease artist Mata Hari for espionage, lawyers Monday lodged a bid to clear her name. Lawyers acting for Mata Hari's Dutch birthplace Leeuwarden and the Mata Hari foundation said the femme fatale, who was accused of selling state secrets to Germany during World War One, was not a spy but the victim of a state conspiracy. They want the French Ministry of Justice to give the green light for a new trial in the hope of annulling the guilty verdict that sent her to death by firing squad in 1917.

"Mata Hari was in the wrong place at the wrong time and forced by the French state to take on the sins of an era," Thibault de Montbrial, the lawyer in charge of the case, told a news conference. Mata Hari, whose real name was Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, was an opportunist who lived the high life and took money from Germany and France during the war, he said.   But she never gave out classified information in return. "The French military was determined to see her shot, partly to show the efficiency of their own anti-espionage system and partly because public opinion was tired of seeing rich Parisians living the high life when men were being shot on the battlefield," de Montbrial said.

Some say Mata Hari ranks second only to fictional hero James Bond in spy mythology. Her name has become synonymous with sex, intrigue and betrayal. French authorities accused her of revealing secrets, including information about a new French tank, to an official at the German embassy in Madrid. She was also accused of receiving money from the German consulate in the Netherlands.

Mata Hari, whose name means "eye of the morning" in Malay, was alleged to have slept with some 20 German officers and was famed for her exotic oriental dancing. German writer Leon Schirmann spent some 10 years scouring archives in France, Britain and Germany to try to prove her innocence and has penned a book based on his findings. De Montbrial said the research revealed not only that the proof against Mata Hari was insufficient, but official documents also showed French intelligence had concocted evidence to implicate her. "She was the victim of a campaign of false information by the French secret service that was approved at all levels," the lawyer said. "The truth was deliberately hidden."

Lawyers cannot automatically file an appeal to clear her name because under French law this is a right reserved for family members. No relatives of the dancer are known to be alive. The appeal to the Ministry of Justice was the first step in a lengthy legal process to try to clear her name. Only Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu has the right to sanction a retrial, and de Montbrial said this could take months. British intelligence released papers in 1999 that showed they could find no evidence Mata Hari had worked as a secret agent.

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Still in the news after
all these years:
Attempts at vindication

But will the French ever admit their grandstanding?
The arrest of Mata Hari
15 Oct. 1917 (source unknown)
This page created in celebration of Women's History Month, March 2001
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