French academic jailed in Iran 'very weakened' by hunger strike

French academic jailed in Iran 'very weakened' by hunger strike
Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in Iran in June, has been on hunger strike since December 24.
4 min read
10 February, 2020
Adelkhah has been detained in Iran since June [Getty]
A French-Iranian academic jailed in Iran in a case that has raised tensions between Paris and Tehran is very weakened by a hunger strike that she began in late December and refuses to halt, a support group said on Monday.

Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in June, has been on hunger strike since December 24 in Evin prison in Tehran as she awaits her trial.

"She is very weakened and is finding it hard to keep her balance," the Paris-based support group seeking her release said in a statement.

"Despite calls by us and pressure from the prison and judicial authorities, she has still not stopped her hunger strike."

Fellow researcher Roland Marchal, who was detained at the same time as Adelkhah, is "distraught" and dealing with health problems that are being worsened by his incarceration, the group said.

Both were summoned for separate hearings on February 5 at the Revolutionary Court that is handling the case without their lawyers present.

The hearings were overseen by the hardline judge Abolqasem Salavati, who has presided over several controversial cases in recent years.

They are both charged with "colluding to commit acts against national security". Initial espionage charges against Adelkhah have been dropped.

"They consider they are now facing a long judicial procedure without end," the support group said, adding that it appeared a trial should begin before Iran's New Year holidays start on March 20.

Dual national Adelkhah, an expert on Shia Islam, and East Africa expert Marchal, a French citizen, are both researchers with Sciences Po University in Paris.

Iran is holding numerous Western citizens in prison, adding to tensions between Tehran and the West following the unilateral rejection by the US of the 2015 deal on the Iranian nuclear programme.

Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert of the University of Melbourne is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges and British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years.

Read also: US border police 'ordered' to detain Iranians, Lebanese and Palestinians in wake of Soleimani killing

According to rights groups outside Iran, at least 11 foreign or dual nationals are currently being held in Iranian prisons following arrest by the Revolutionary Guards or intelligence ministry.

Also jailed and serving a 10-year sentence is Iranian American businessman Siamak Namazi, who has been held since 2015. His elderly father Mohammad Bagher Namazi, who was arrested after visiting his son, is on a restricted medical leave and cannot leave Iran.

Damage to foreign relations

Last last month, a senior journalist with The Economist revealed in an article published that he was held for seven weeks in Iran last summer despite holding a valid press visa.

Nicolas Pelham, The Economist's Middle East correspondent, said he travelled to the country in July last year after being granted a journalist visa but was then detained as he was checking out of his Tehran hotel before his flight home.

In an article for The Economist's lifestyle magazine 1843, Pelham said he had initially been held under arrest by guards but then allowed to live in an upscale Tehran hotel and even roam around the city.

His British passport was eventually returned in September and he was allowed to leave the country and return to London.

Pelham suggested in his article that his detention was part of a high-stakes powerplay within the Iranian regime at a time when tensions were soaring between Tehran and London over the impounding of oil tankers.

He said his captors were from the elite Revolutionary Guards, which answers to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The government's own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival," Pelham wrote.

"I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it," he added.

Asked for further comment by AFP, Pelham said in emailed remarks that he still did not understand what behind-the-scenes political moves had been behind his detention.

"You'll have to ask the Iranians," he said.

"It seems clear that they were not all on the same page. Many recognise the damage holding foreign nationals does to their foreign relations," he added.

Asked if he had drawn any final conclusion about his experience, Pelham said: "In future I would be wary of travelling alone to Iran."

In 2014, Iranian authorities arrested Jason Razaian, then-Iran correspondent for The Washington Post, and his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi. 

Razaian was later sentenced on espionage charges. He was released in 2016 after almost two years in captivity. The journalist's release came as part of a prison exchange instigated by the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

At least 11 journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last year condemned Tehran for pressuring and even detaining the family members of critical journalists.

RSF has noted at least 25 cases of pressure exerted on the Iran-based families of critical journalists living abroad. In September last year, for example, the brother and former sister-in-law of self-exiled journalist Masih Alinejad were arrested by authorities in Tehran.

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