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French academic Fariba Adelkhah jailed in Iran: consular access denied

A French-Iranian academic has been detained in Iran and the French government has demanded immediate consular access. The French foreign ministry called on the Iranian authorities to “shed full light” on Fariba Adelkhah’s situation and allow diplomats to visit her. Adelkhah is best known for her book “Being Modern in Iran”, about changes in the country after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Arrested in June

Fariba Adelkhah, a prominent researcher in anthropology and social sciences based at the Paris political institute Sciences Po, is believed to have been arrested in June. The French foreign ministry said it had not yet been given “satisfactory” information on the status of Adelkhah, who is seen as one of France’s top academics on Iran.

“The French authorities were recently informed of the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “France calls on the Iranian authorities to shed full light on Mrs Adelkhah’s situation and repeats its demands, particularly with regard to an immediate authorisation for consular access. No satisfactory response has been received until now.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to Belgrade on 15 July, said he was awaiting “clarification” from the Iranian authorities.

IranWire, an online news website run by Iranian expatriates, cited sources as saying Ms Adelkhah was arrested by Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence agents in Tehran “on probable charges of espionage”. She had been carrying out research in Iran for several months and had spent time in the holy city of Qom along with a French student, IranWire reported.

“Noting the disdain for academic freedom shown by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the danger that academics face when going to Iran, REASOPO asks European scientific and academic institutions to immediately suspend all forms of cooperation with Iran with the exception of the reception of students coming from Iran, while expressing its solidarity with the Iranian colleagues confronted with the arbitrariness of the security apparatus of the Islamic Republic.”

Tension over nuclear deal

The detention risks increasing tension between Paris and Tehran at a critical moment in the crisis over Iran’s nuclear deal. As news of the latest detention broke, European foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels, fighting to save the Iran nuclear deal after Tehran’s announcement earlier this month that it would boost the enrichment level of uranium above agreed limits, breaking the terms of the landmark accord.

Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, said there was a “closing but small window” to keep the deal alive. The UK foreign secretary warned that if Tehran acquired nuclear weapons, other countries in the region would too, leading to a “very toxic and dangerous situation”.

As punishing US economic sanctions hit Iran’s economy, the EU has been attempting to craft a barter mechanism to allow European companies to continue trading with Iran.

So far, 10 EU member states have agreed to take part in the Instex barter system, which allows companies to trade without money changing hands, in an attempt to avoid falling foul of US sanctions.

Detained Dual-nationals used as Bargaining Chips

Adelkhah is the latest Iranian national also holding a western passport to be arrested in Iran. The UK has advised dual nationals against travel to Iran, saying the “dangers they face include arbitrary detention and lack of access to basic legal rights”.

Iran has detained a number of dual citizens and foreign nationals in recent years, many of them on espionage charges, and used them as bargaining chips for political gains. They include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American researcher at Princeton University who is serving a 10-year sentence for espionage. Michael White, a US national, was this year sentenced to 10 years.

Dual Iranian-American nationals Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer, are serving 10-year sentences for espionage in a case that has outraged Washington. A French academic, Clotilde Reiss, was detained in Iran for 10 months in 2009-10 before being released in a case that attracted widespread attention at the time.

Human rights violations

Despite continued sanctions, Iran has continued to arbitrarily detain dual nationals but also hundreds of Iranian human rights defenders including, Nisreen Stouda, Mohammed Najafin, Kassem Shaalah Saadi, Amir Salar Daoudi, Arsh Kikhrousi, Farouk Frouzan and a number of human rights activists such as Huda Ameen and Najma Wahidi to name just a few.

Amnesty reported that Iran arrested over 7,000 people in a sweeping crackdown in 2018 that led to hundreds being jailed or flogged, at least 26 protesters being killed and nine people dying in custody amid suspicious circumstances. Among those arrested were journalists, lawyers, minority rights activists and anti-hijab protesters. Managers of channels on the popular mobile messaging application Telegram were also targeted.

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