Macron demands Iran release French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah
France on Friday urged Iran to release French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah as she marked one year behind bars, with supporters charging she is being used as a bargaining chip by Tehran in a political game.
Adelkhah, an anthropologist specialising in Shia Islam, was arrested on June 5, 2019, and has been in prison ever since.
Last month she was given a five-year sentence after being convicted on national security charges.
She is one of several foreigners and dual nationals being held by Iran in what activists condemn as a policy of hostage-taking aimed at pressuring the West.
Born in Iran in 1959 but living in France since 1977, Adelkhah has maintained her innocence, and colleagues and other supporters have rubbished the charges against her. She went on a 49-day hunger strike to protest her conditions.
"My message to the Iranian authorities: justice demands that our compatriot be released immediately," French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, calling her detention "unacceptable."
To mark the anniversary, her picture was displayed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on the facade of the French capital's city hall with the slogan: "Her fight for freedom is ours."
"Fariba Adelkhah is a hostage of the Iranian government," Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate and rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who now lives in exile, said in a video message.
"The Tehran government uses dual nationals by taking them hostage and using them to achieve its own political agenda," she said.
But Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi warned Paris against interfering in the case.
"Mrs Adelkhah has been the subject of an independent and fair judicial procedure," he said, adding that "political pressure and media campaigns will in no way prevent the carrying out of her sentence."
'Settling of scores'
Adelkhah was arrested with her partner Roland Marchal, a fellow academic at the Sciences Po university in Paris specialising in Africa.
He told RTL radio that her state was "like that of other detainees; there are moments when she is combative and fights for freedom, and others that are more difficult."
Marchal was freed and returned to France in March after French authorities released Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who risked extradition to the United States on accusations of violating sanctions.
This week, Michael White, an American held in Iran for nearly two years, returned home, with the US allowing two Iranian scientists to go back to their country.
In December, Iran also freed US academic Xiyue Wang in exchange for scientist Massoud Soleimani, and said it was open to further swaps.
Such apparent exchanges have made Adelkhah's supporters fear that Iran will be looking for something in return for her liberation.
Her support group of fellow academics believe that she was arrested because of an "internal settling of scores" or to "obtain the release of Iranians detained in Europe or in the United States."
Further complicating the situation is that such arrests of foreigners and dual nationals is carried out by the powerful Revolutionary Guards rather than the Iranian government.
Despite the releases, as well as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in Iranian prisons, Adelkhah is not the only prominent foreigner or dual national held by Iran.
Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi has been held for almost half a decade, while British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016, is still unable to leave the country despite being allowed out of jail on a furlough.
British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert is serving a 10-year sentence on charges of espionage. Her family last month rejected reports that she had attempted suicide in jail.
Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said the Iranian authorities responsible for keeping the prisoners behind bars see their detentions as "transactional," and want something in return.
"This is a horrifying thought. It is very unfortunate that innocent lives like Fariba's are being put on the line for such transactions," he told AFP.
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