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Two detained French academics go on trial in Iran

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Paris (AFP)

Two French academics jailed in Iran for over half a year on national security charges went on trial Tuesday in a case that has raised tensions between Tehran and Paris.

Fariba Adelkhah, 60, and Roland Marchal, 64, both researchers at Sciences Po University in Paris, were detained in June on charges that rights groups and fellow academics have denounced as outrageous.

Only Adelkhah appeared in the closed-door hearing of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, according to information passed on to their lawyer Said Dehghan.

"Mr Marchal had no problem to appear in court today, but (the authorities) did not bring him. They only brought Ms Adelkhah," Dehghan told AFP in Tehran.

According to Dehghan, the hearing was postponed to an unspecified date, and the judge refused a defence request that two additional lawyers be allowed to represent them.

Dehghan accused the judge of having "violated the law" over the matter.

Adelkhah, an anthropologist and expert on Shiite Islam, faces charges of "propaganda against the system" and "colluding to commit acts against national security".

Her colleague Marchal, a specialist on East Africa, is accused of the same national security charge, said the lawyer.

Their Paris-based support group and the French foreign ministry have sounded the alarm over the health of the two -- Adelkhah went on hunger strike for 49 days and Marchal's health is said to be deteriorating.

- Virus fears -

The support group denounced as a "masquerade of justice" the closed-door hearing presided over by Judge Fazlollah Salavati.

The group said holding them in jail was particularly dangerous given the intensity of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which officials there on Tuesday said had claimed 77 lives.

"The Iranian authorities are deliberately putting in danger the lives of our two colleagues -- already weakened -- by keeping them in an overcrowded jail while the country is hit by a serious coronavirus epidemic whose scale is being played down and which is not under control," it said.

Persian-language media and activists outside Iran have claimed the scale of the outbreak is far higher than admitted by the authorities, which has been vehemently denied by Tehran.

Iran does not recognise Adelkhah's dual French-Iranian nationality and has lashed out at Paris for what it has described as "interference" in the cases.

Adelkhah and Marchal are not the only academics being held by Tehran, which has been accused by the West of arbitrarily detaining foreigners as bargaining chips.

Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert of the University of Melbourne is serving a 10-year sentence after being found guilty of espionage.

Tehran is still holding several other foreigners in high-profile cases, including British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Mohammad Bagher Namazi.

Iran said Tuesday Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, was "in perfect health" after she had reportedly expressed fears of contracting the new coronavirus behind bars.

burs-fz/jj

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