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French academics to face trial in Iran for 'anti-regime propaganda'

The two researchers were detained in June 2019 [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 February, 2020

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French researchers, Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal will stand trial in Iran on March 3, their lawyer confirmed on Tuesday.
Two French academics held in Iran where they are accused of plotting against national security will go on trial on March 3, their lawyer said on Tuesday.

Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, both researchers at Sciences Po University in Paris, were detained in the Islamic republic in June 2019 and are being held in Evin prison in Tehran.

"We saw the indictment yesterday. The date for the trial was set yesterday for March 3," lawyer Said Dehghan told AFP.

Adelkhah faces charges of "propaganda against the system" and "colluding to commit acts against national security", he said.

Marchal was accused of "colluding to commit acts against national security".

Speaking a short time earlier in a televised news conference, Iran's judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the academics had already been convicted.

"They were tried in the presence of their lawyer, and convicted and are currently undergoing their sentence," said Esmaili, without elaborating further.

Read also: US border police 'ordered' to detain Iranians, Lebanese and Palestinians in wake of Soleimani killing

But their lawyer said this was not the case.

"I deny this," Dehghan told AFP. "We are preparing our defence."

Adelkhah, a specialist in Shia Islam, last week ended a six-week hunger strike that she had reportedly begun to demand the release of Marchal amid concerns about his health.

Marchal, an expert on East Africa, was reportedly arrested when visiting Adelkhah.

The detention of the pair has raised tensions between Iran and France.

On Tuesday, France said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had called for their "release without delay" during talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday in Munich.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry called on Tuesday for "consular access, which must be regular and in accordance with Iran's international commitments, and... the release of our compatriots".

Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has repeatedly criticised France for what it calls its "interference" in Adelkhah's case.

Iran is holding numerous Western citizens in prison, adding to tensions between Tehran and the West following the unilateral rejection by the US of the 2015 deal on the Iranian nuclear programme.

According to rights groups outside Iran, at least 11 foreign or dual nationals are currently being held in Iranian prisons following arrest by the Revolutionary Guards or intelligence ministry.

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

Also jailed and serving a 10-year sentence is Iranian American businessman Siamak Namazi, who has been held since 2015. His elderly father Mohammad Bagher Namazi, who was arrested after visiting his son, is on a restricted medical leave and cannot leave Iran.

However, Iran announced on Tuesday a German held in Iran was released as part of a prisoner swap for an Iranian held in Germany on suspicion of violating US sanctions.

"We announced that we are ready to (release) this German national... on condition that they (the Germans) do not extradite our citizen to America," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

"On Sunday... the Iranian national left Germany and entered Iran, and on Monday... we released the German national," he told a televised news conference.

According to the official, the unidentified German had been detained "for some time" for "taking photos and videos" in areas without authorisation and had been serving a three-year prison sentence.

The German was swapped for Iranian Ahmad Khalili, who according to Iran's foreign ministry was detained in Germany "on the pretext of violating the illegal and cruel sanctions of the United States".

Khalili was freed on Sunday night after "intensive diplomatic consultations" and cooperation involving the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence service, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement.

He returned to Iran together with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who last week attended a security conference in the German city of Munich, Mousavi added.

Iran said in December it was ready for more prisoner swaps with the US after it secured the return of scientist Massoud Soleimani in exchange for Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born American held in the Islamic republic.

Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated steeply since 2018, when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

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