French pair held in Iran on spying charges lose bid for bail

Judge ordered researcher Roland Marchal and academic Fariba Adelkhah released but prosecution opposed, sending matter to Revolutionary Court, which deals with espionage crimes

Illustrative: An unidentified defendant, back to camera, stands before a judge at the Revolutionary Court, in Tehran, Iran, February 18, 2012. (ILNA,Houshang Hadi/AP)
Illustrative: An unidentified defendant, back to camera, stands before a judge at the Revolutionary Court, in Tehran, Iran, February 18, 2012. (ILNA,Houshang Hadi/AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Two French academics detained in Iran for six months have lost a bid to be released on bail and their case will now go before the Revolutionary Court, Iranian media reported.

Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po in Paris, was arrested in June together with Fariba Adelkhah, an academic at the same university. They are accused of espionage.

French President Emmanuel Macron had called on Tuesday for Iran to release the pair without delay, saying “their imprisonment is intolerable.”

His appeal came on international human rights day and followed a prisoner swap at the weekend between Iran and its arch-enemy the United States.

Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA said on Tuesday that a judge had decided to release the French academics on bail, as they had been entitled to it after six months in detention.

But this was opposed by the prosecution, and as a result the case was referred to Iran’s Revolutionary Court to settle the dispute, ISNA said, citing their lawyer Saeed Dehghan.

The Revolutionary Court typically handles high-profile cases in Iran, including those involving espionage.

“The bail for my clients had been issued and the judge had agreed to their release on bail,” Dehghan was quoted as saying.

“Though delayed, this decision was legal, but the deputy prosecutor opposed the opinion of the judge,” said the lawyer.

As a result, “the matter must be sent to a competent court to settle disputes… which in this case is the Revolutionary Court.”

‘Unacceptable interference’

Marchal had come to Iran to visit Adelkhah and was accused of “collusion against national security,” Dehghan said last month, according to ISNA.

But the lawyer said the reasons for the charges were still unknown to him.

The arrest of Adelkhah, a Franco-Iranian specialist in Shiite Islam, was confirmed on July 16 by Iran’s judicial spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili, who gave no further details.

Her friends and colleagues in France have said she was accused of espionage.

Tehran, which does not recognize dual nationality, has criticized Paris for “unacceptable interference” in its domestic affairs after the French government sought consular access to Adelkhah.

Iran said on Monday it was open to more prisoner swaps with the United States after one such exchange over the weekend.

Xiyue Wang, an American scholar who had been serving 10 years on espionage charges, was released by Iran on Saturday in exchange for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian who had been held in the US for allegedly breaching sanctions.

Adelkhah and Marchal are not the only foreign academics facing charges in Iran.

British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady was held in Iran for three months before being released on bail on November 21, 2019. (Facebook)

British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady, who was released on bail last month after three months in detention, is suspected of links to foreign intelligence services.

Iran confirmed in September that Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert had been arrested for “spying for another country.” Her family said at the time that she had been detained for months.

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