French researcher released from Iranian jail under prisoner swap deal


A prisoner swap between France and Iran has been announced by French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday after a French researcher has been freed in exchange for an Iranian threatened with extradition to the US.

Macron said that he was “happy to announce the release of Roland Marchal, imprisoned in Iran since June 2019” and urged the Iranian authorities to immediately also free fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah, the French president’s office said.

Marchal was due to arrive in France later on Saturday, according to Macron’s office.

France has for months, demanded that Iran release Adelkhah and her colleague, Marchal, who were detained last year accused of plotting against national security. Their trial began in early March.

Adelkhah is a citizen of both Iran and France, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality.

The Iranian judiciary’s news agency Mizan Online reported the Iranian prisoner Jalal Rohollahnejad had been freed by France on Friday. Iranian state television showed images of him hugging members of his family during an emotional reunion in Tehran.

Rohollahnejad, “an Iranian engineer incarcerated for more than a year in French prisons and accused of circumventing American sanctions against Iran, has been freed today,” Mizan said.

The French Court of Cassation had on 11 March approved the request to extradite Rohollahnejad to the US, “but the French government freed him, changing this decision”, it added.

“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”, according to the report.

Adelkhah, 60, an anthropologist and expert on Shia Islam, faces charges of “propaganda against the system” and “colluding to commit acts against national security”, according to the researchers’ lawyer, Said Dehghan.

Marchal, 64, a specialist on east Africa, is accused of the same national security charge, the lawyer said.

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

“We welcome with relief the arrival of Roland Marchal in Paris after nearly nine months of arbitrary detention in very difficult conditions, but only half of the path has been taken,” said Jean-Francois Bayart, a member of the committee and a professor at the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

He said “the fight continues” to secure Adelkhah’s release.

Adding to concerns for the welfare of the prisoners, Iran has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, behind only Italy and China in the official number of deaths.

Iran said on Saturday that 123 more people had died from coronavirus, raising the country’s official death toll to 1,556.

Ahead of Iran’s celebration of the Persian new year starting on Friday, authorities have released a number of international prisoners.

US Navy veteran Michael White was freed on Thursday. He was handed over in the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad to a team from Switzerland, which represents US interests in the absence of diplomatic relations, and flown to the capital Tehran, the US State Department said.

Iran this week also freed temporarily freed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media organisation’s philanthropic arm.

Iran is still holding US citizens Siamak Namazi – who was convicted on charges that include espionage and collaboration with the US government – his father, Baquer, and environmental expert Morad Tahbaz.

The Islamic republic in December freed Xiyue Wang, a US academic, in an exchange for scientist Massoud Soleimani and said it was open to further swaps. (Source: The Guardian)