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Iran blasts France’s calls to free two prominent jailed academics

Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was arrested in Iran in June 2019.
Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was arrested in Iran in June 2019. © Screengrab FRANCE 24

Pressure from France to secure the release of two prominent French academics, Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, who have been detained in Iran since June, is unproductive, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.

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Responding to remarks over the weekend by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called the detentions "unacceptable," Mousavi said, "I don't think these kinds of comments and pressure will get them [the French] the results they want," the Iranian spokesman said at a Tehran press conference.

Adelkhah, a Franco-Iranian dual national, is an expert on Shiite Islam with numerous publications on Iran and Afghanistan. Marchal is a senior researchers with Sciences Po university in Paris specialised in East Africa.

Detained without trial in Iran since June, the two Sciences Po academics are charged with "colluding to commit acts against national security".

France "must let due process take its course", Mousavi said Monday, adding that the two prisoners were "accused and guilty" of security offences.

"We understand some of the concerns of our French friends, but they know themselves that the two (prisoners) are accorded all their legal rights," he said.

‘Unacceptable’ detention

Appearing on a French current affairs show Sunday, Le Drian said "Iran would make a strong gesture" by freeing the two academics.

"We know that they are not in great shape, not always well treated," the minister said.

"We consider their detention unacceptable, we have told the highest authorities this, including President (Hassan) Rouhani."

Faced with repeated demands from Paris to free Adelkhah and Marchal, Tehran regularly denounces what it calls interference in its domestic affairs.

Iran does not recognise dual nationality and has denied France consular access to Adelkhah. But such visits are guaranteed to Marchal, Mousavi said.

Researchers as ‘targets’ of authoritarian governments

On Friday, a committee supporting the detained pair said that Adelkhah's health was "alarming" since she began a hunger strike on December 24, while Marchal's was "very unstable".

Speaking at the forum, Jean-Pierre Filiu, a historian at Sciences Po university, said researchers are increasingly becoming targets of authoritarian governments in the Middle East.

"The risks now facing researchers in the Middle East are unprecedented," said Filiu. "It started with gunshots at the office of Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University of Beirut, who was murdered in 1984 by Hezbollah, already an arm of the Revolutionary Guards" of Iran, said Filiu. "They were victims of the settling of scores by Iran with Washington and Paris."

The two French researchers are among a number of foreigners arrested in Iran during a spike in tensions between Tehran and Washington’s allies.

Iran has dropped espionage charges against Adelkhah but she still faces charges of spreading "propaganda against the political system" and "conspiracy against national security".

Marchal is accused of "collusion against national security", according to his lawyer.

Adelkhah has refused to return to her cell and held a sit-in in a public area of the prison over the last week, demanding to see Marchal "to comfort him and check the state of his health", according to a committee of academics supporting the pair.

Adelkhah has requested access to Marchal, saying she has "serious concerns" about his health, the committee said.

Arrests of foreigners including dual nationals in Iran have increased since the United States pulled out a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.

France and other European nations have tried to salvage the deal, but tensions soared further after the US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani earlier this month.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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