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Iran 'frees French researcher' in apparent prisoner swap

Iran releases 10,000 prisoners, including political prisoners [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 March, 2020

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Roland Marchal was formerly accused of 'colluding to commit acts against national security', according to his lawyer. His long-term partner, dual-national Fariba Adelkhah, remains in prison.

A French researcher detained in Tehran for over eight months on charges of conspiring against national security has been released from prison, a French presidency official said on Saturday.

According to Iranian media reports, Roland Marchal was freed in exchange for an Iranian prisoner, Jalal Rohullahnejad, held in Paris for allegedly violating US-imposed sanctions.

Marchal was turned over to the French Embassy in Tehran, hours after French authorities released Jalal Ruhollahnejad, Iranian judiciary's news agency Mizan Online reported, with an undated photo of Ruhollahnejad, allegedly showing him on board an aircraft.

After a year-long stint in French prisons for ''circumventing American sanctions against Iran'', the French government overturned a court decision to extradite Rohallahnejad to the US, according to the report.

"Taking into account the cooperation of the (Iranian) judicial system's intention to release a French detainee through reducing sentences, the French government" freed the Iranian engineer "in an act of mutual cooperation", the report added.

Marchal, a specialist on East Africa, was arrested in June after he went to Iran to visit fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah, a dual French-Iranian national who is a prominent anthropologist and expert on Shiite Islam, and often travelled to Iran for research on post-revolutionary Iranian society.

Adelkhah was arrested on charges of spreading "propaganda against the system" and "colluding to commit acts against national security", according to the pair’s lawyer, Said Dehghan.

Marchal stood accused of the same national security charge.

The French Foreign Ministry and the French university Marchal was associated with did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In February, the two researchers, both in their 60s, petitioned prison authorities to allow them to get married.

While their lawyer said they had been partners for 38 years in France, it was unclear if their request had been granted.

At the time, Dehghan also expressed concern for his client's deteriorating health, amid a hunger strike Adelkhah had been on since December.

Read more: French-Iranian academic returns to prison after hospitalisation

Adding to concern of the welfare of prisoners, Iran is currently battling the worst outbreak of the new coronavirus in the Middle East, with the death toll at 1,433 as of Friday, according to the country's Health Ministry.

Iran announced Thursday that 10,000 prisoners - among them an unknown number of inmates whose cases are political and related to activism or speech - would be granted amnesty on the Persian New Year, called Nowruz.

The country had already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave to curb the spread of the new coronavirus inside its prisons.

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