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Iran Court Upholds Prison Sentence for Iranian-French Academic

Dual Nationals, Foreigners Used as Bargaining Chips

Message on the facade of the Strasbourg City Hall in France calling for the release of Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, two French scientists detained in Iran since June 2019. © 2020 Nicolas Roses/Sipa via AP Images

On June 30, an Iranian appeals court in Tehran upheld a five-year prison sentence against Fariba Adelkhah, an Iranian-French anthropologist at the Sciences Po university in Paris who has been detained for over a year.

Adelkhah’s case is one of the half-dozen known instances of Iranian dual nationals who are detained in Iran on vaguely defined national security charges. Authorities have failed to provide any convincing evidence for their charges, such as “propaganda against the system,” “colluding to commit acts against national security,” and “cooperating with hostile states.”

In recent years, Iran’s security apparatus has escalated its targeting of dual citizens and foreign nationals whom they perceive have links to Western academic, economic, and cultural institutions. Many of these cases, which Human Rights Watch has previously documented, are characterized by systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights often resolved through international, diplomatic negotiations instead of transparent and fair judicial processes.

On numerous occasions, Iranian officials have indicated their willingness to negotiate a prisoner swap with Western countries. In March 2020, Iran released Adelkhah’s partner, French academic Roland Marchal, in an apparent exchange for the release of Jalal Ruhollahnejad, an Iranian engineer detained in France and wanted by the United States on charges of violating US sanctions laws on Iran.

Marchal’s case fits a broader pattern of prisoner exchanges for Iranians detained or wanted by the US over allegations of US sanctions violations. In June, Iran released Michael White, a US navy veteran, in another prisoner swap with an Iranian doctor accused of violating US sanctions laws.

Arresting dual nationals and foreign academics, charity workers, and businesspeople, sentencing them in grossly unfair trials, and using them as bargaining chips in international disputes shows incredible disregard for basic human rights. Iran should immediately release Adelkhah and others arbitrarily detained.

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