Former Detainees In Prisoner Swap Return To France, Iran
By RFE/RL March 22, 2020
Two former detainees released in a prisoner swap between France and Iran have returned to their home countries after each having spent months in confinement.
French researcher Roland Marchal arrived in Paris on March 21, with his support group releasing a short statement saying, "Roland has returned."
Meanwhile, Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who is wanted in the United States, arrived in Tehran to an emotional meeting with his family.
The two were both released the day before in what Mizan Online, the news site of the Iranian judiciary, called "an act of mutual cooperation."
The detentions had complicated ties between the two countries during a period when French President Emmanuel Macron sought to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran, and while Iran has sought France's help to mitigate the economic damage caused by U.S. financial sanctions.
A relative told AFP that Marchal was taken to a military hospital near Paris for medical tests and that the "analyses were good."
Macron had announced that Tehran released Marchal after France freed Rohollahnejad instead of sending him to the United States, where he is suspected of being involved in an attempt to export sensitive industrial equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Macron's office said he "is happy to announce the release of Roland Marchal, imprisoned in Iran since June 2019" but that he "urges the Iranian authorities to immediately free" fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah.
Marchal, 64, a senior researcher at Sciences Po university, was detained in June 2019 along fellow researcher Adelkhah.
The 60-year-old Adelkhah is a citizen of both France and Iran, but Tehran does not recognize dual nationality.
Said Dehqan, lawyer for both French detainees, told AFP that Adelkhah was "very happy" that her companion had been freed.
Adelkhah faces charges of "propaganda against the system" and "colluding to commit acts against national security," according her lawyer, who said that Marchal was accused of similar charges.
The lawyer said in October 2019 that Iranian prosecutors had given no evidence to support the charges against them.
The researchers' supporters had expressed concerns over the health of the detainees after Iran became one of the hardest-hit countries amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
As of March 22, at least 1,685 people have died in Iran from the COVID-19 virus, and nearly 22,000 have been confirmed infected.
In Tehran, state television showed images of a freed Rohollahnejad hugging members of his family during a reunion in the Iranian capital.
"Thanks be to God, those days have ended," Rohollahnejad said of his confinement.
He claimed he had been badly treated while being detained in France.
The French Court of Cassation on March 11 said it had approved "the request to extradite Rohollahnejad to the U.S., but the French government freed him, changing this decision."
Rohollahnejad was detained under a U.S. extradition warrant at the airport in the southern French city of Nice on February 2, 2019.
Iran is still holding U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi his father, Baquer, and environmental expert Morad Tahbaz. Siamak Namazi was convicted on charges including espionage and collaboration with the U.S. government.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department harshly criticized France for releasing Rohollahnejad, accusing Paris of failing to uphold its obligations under a joint extradition treaty
"The United States deeply regrets France's unilateral decision to release Iranian national Jalal Rohollahnejad from its custody," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. "There are multiple outstanding U.S. charges against him related to the illegal export of equipment with military applications in violation of U.S. sanctions."
"The United States and France have a shared interest in bringing those accused of serious crimes to justice, particularly in cases with national security implications," she said in a statement.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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