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The Interview

French academic Roland Marchal speaks out after nine months of detention in Iran

THE INTERVIEW
THE INTERVIEW © FRANCE 24

In an emotional interview with FRANCE 24's partner radio stations RFI and Radio France, Roland Marchal, the French academic released last month after more than nine months in an Iranian jail, spoke out about his time in detention. Marchal's partner, Fariba Adelkhah, who was arrested at the same time as him, remains in prison in Tehran. 

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In an emotional first media interview since returning to France as part of a prisoner swap, French academic Roland Marchal detailed the psychological effects of more than nine months of detention in Tehran's Evin prison.

"I was in a high-security wing, I was very much in isolation. In fact that was probably the most harrowing thing... You really had to stand on your tiptoes to just get a glimpse of daylight. For me, I found it very hard. Naturally I'm a workaholic, I've worked a lot in Africa and I love it because of the light and the freedom you have there. So it really was very harrowing for me. For the first few days or weeks, I was just trying to get a notion of time. I tried to understand when breakfast would be served, when people would come with medication, or when you're allowed to sleep for an evening, just to get an understanding of when the three meals of the day would come," he said.

He continued: "I had no news from the outside. I had no idea why I had been detained, what the accusations were, how long I was going to be there. It was extremely trying."

Marchal and his partner, fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah, were detained in June 2019 on accusations of plotting against national security. The pair, who work at the Centre for International Studies at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, have always denied the charges. 

'I heard her voice about three weeks after I arrived'

Marchal didn't realise Adelkhah had been arrested at the same time as him. He only understood several weeks later. "I heard her voice about three weeks after I arrived at the prison, towards the end of June, between my cell and the room where I was being interrogated. It was on that path that I heard someone call out "azadi" - which in Farsi means freedom... It was her voice... She was able to see me, she recognised me and she shouted out and I very clearly recognised her voice," he said.

"I saw her again on September 25, October 25 and February 3. Each time we saw each other it was just for a few short minutes. We were able to speak sometimes, but sometimes not."

Marchal was freed on March 20 after France released an Iranian, Jalal Rohollahnejad, who was facing extradition to the United States on accusations that he tried to smuggle technology materials into Iran in violation of US sanctions.

Adelkhah remains in jail, where she went on hunger strike for 49 days. She has both French and Iranian citizenship, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality.

'I realised that I was just a bargaining chip'​​​​​​

Marchal explained that in February, he was taken aside during one of his interrogations. "The interrogator said: 'Look, this isn't really about you, this is all about negotiations for an Iranian [Jalal Rohollahnejad] who is France... Your time here is just to put pressure on France.' And I realised that I was just a bargaining chip and in that it was actually quite comforting because it meant that there would be an end and that end would be an exchange."

Marchal underlines that he was never physically tortured during his time in prison: "By the end, I was not treated any better than the others. But I was not mistreated or abused in prison. I was still allowed to see a doctor and get medical care," he said.

However, he stressed the psychological toll of solitary confinement and interrogation.

"Isolation, it's not just being cut off, it's forgetting everything you've done, everything you've written, everything you've worked on. And that is so very trying," he said. 

"The interrogations were going worse and worse, the interrogators were becoming angrier with me, they would shout at me. So when you come from the quietness of your cell and then you're put into a room where you have people shouting at you, shouting questions like 'how is it possible that you can't remember all of this?' ... From a psychological point of view, I'm sure they're using many techniques that are used by many other countries for interrogations." 

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