On June 5, 2019, the Franco-Iranian anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah was arrested in Tehran: two years later, she is still deprived of her liberty, “hostage” among others of the Iranian regime in its standoff with the West.
To mark this anniversary, her portrait will be drawn, Saturday, June 5, on the facade of the town hall of central Paris, in the heart of the capital, in the presence of her companion Roland Marchal, arrested at the same time as her and exchanged in March 2020 against an Iranian engineer detained in France and threatened with extradition to the United States.
“Two years later, we still do not know why she was arrested: as a means of pressure on France and blackmail to release Iranians detained in Europe?, wonders its support committee. Within the framework of internal settling of accounts in the Islamic Republic? To silence dissenting voices, to set an example against freedom of expression? “
Iran holds more than a dozen Westerners – most of whom also hold Iranian passports – in prison or under house arrest. On the French side, the tourist Benjamin Brière was added to the list, further complicating the task of the Quai d’Orsay.
These “hostages” are the subject of accusations that those concerned refute, such as espionage or attacking state security, and activists denounce a pure bargaining chip to obtain concessions. “Fariba Adelkhah has never been politically active. She is a scientific prisoner, deprived of her liberty solely on the basis of her university work ”, declares its support committee.
A specialist in Shiism and post-revolutionary Iran at Sciences Po Paris, the 62-year-old researcher was sentenced to five years in prison in May 2020 for threat to “national security” and “propaganda” against the Republic Islamic. She spent more than a year in a prison before being placed under house arrest in October 2020 in Tehran, under the constraint of an electronic bracelet and with a horizon limited to 300 meters.
“She is not free to do anything and continues to suffer psychological torture”, underlines Béatrice Hibou, member of its support committee. “They play with his nerves all the time”, she told Agence France-Presse, singling out the aborted prospects for parole or pardon. His outward links come down to visits from his family and telephone conversations with a few relatives in France. She also takes courses in Arabic and Muslim law at a distance. “It helps a lot”, notes Béatrice Hibou.
Deemed strong – she observed a hunger strike of forty-nine days during her detention – Fariba Adelkhah has to reckon with the vagaries of Iranian politics and international issues. The presidential election of June 18, in which the ultraconservative head of the Judicial Authority, Ebrahim Raïssi, is the favorite, is the next major deadline.
Negotiations to save the Iran nuclear deal could also have fallout. Some in Iran are “Annoyed by the prospect that an agreement is possible” and could obstruct by playing the hostage card, considers a source close to the case. But if the Vienna nuclear talks are successful, the French could also be “Thanked for their positive role” in negotiation, wants to believe this source.
A “visible state” and a “deep state”
The entourage of the researcher hopes at least an improvement in her conditions of detention, but remains very cautious because her Iranian nationality complicates the situation. For binationals, the stake is not only external, it is also internal, it is a message of intimidation towards the Iranians, it is estimated in Paris.
Immediately, “The Islamic Republic is interested in very specific profiles because it wants to free Assadolkah Assadi in Belgium”, notes Clément Therme, specialist in Iran, during a meeting with the Association of the diplomatic press in Paris. This Iranian diplomat was sentenced to twenty years in prison for a planned bombing in France in 2018 against opponents.
Fariba Adelkhah, however, does not necessarily have the profile for such an exchange, consider those around him. “France talks to the visible state, President Macron talks to President Rouhani, so the French hostages remain prisoners for a long time”, added Clément Therme, with reference to the multiple layers of power in Iran, in particular the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic. “President Putin talks to him to the Revolutionary Guards, to the Iranian deep state. So a Russian hostage does not stay long in prison in Iran ”, observes the specialist again.