Fariba Adelkhah

Fariba Adelkhah

French-Iranian Academic


Fariba Adelkhah is a French-Iranian anthropologist at the university SciencesPo in Paris. She has published a study of Islamic women in Iran and, more recently, has focused on Shiite clerics’ movements between Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


In June 2019, Adelkhah was arrested in Iran, where she was conducting research and visiting her mother. Her SciencesPo colleague and longtime companion Roland Marchal, who had flown to Tehran to spend the Eid holiday with her, was also arrested. 

Treatment in Prison

Marchal was held, and Adelkhah remains in Tehran’s notoriously brutal Evin Prison. Unlike Marchal, Adelkhah has not been allowed to meet with French consular officials because Iran does not recognize dual nationality.

On December 24, 2019, Adelkhah started a hunger strike to demand that the regime release Marchal and her. She ended it on February 12, 2020, due to health concerns, and shortly after that, Adelkhah was admitted to the Evin Prison’s hospital for acute kidney damage.

In early February of 2020, Marchal and Adelkhah petitioned for permission to marry so that they could meet with each other in prison. No judgment on their petition was made public.

Charges, Trial, and Sentencing

The regime held Marchal and Adelkhah for months without making criminal charges public, but finally disclosed that he would be tried for “collusion to endanger national security,” while she would be tried for both that charge and “propaganda against the political system of the Islamic Republic.” Their trial commenced on March 3, 2020, though only Adelkhah appeared, and further proceedings were postponed until April 18, 2020.

After the couple’s trial began on March 3, 2020, their Paris-based support group condemned the hearing as a “masquerade of justice” and accused the regime of “deliberately putting in danger the lives of our two colleagues—already weakened—by keeping them in an overcrowded jail while the country is hit by a serious coronavirus epidemic whose scale is being played down and which is not under control.”

On May 16, 2020, Adelkhah was sentenced to five years in prison for the aforementioned “collusion” charge and one year for the “propaganda” charge. Her lawyer said that he expected the prison terms would be served concurrently.

Marchal’s Release

Iran freed Marchal on March 20, 2020, in exchange for France simultaneously releasing Jalal Rohollahnejad, an Iranian accused of violating U.S. sanctions laws. Marchal returned to France the next day. The regime continues to hold Adelkhah hostage in Evin Prison.

International Outcry

In July of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron personally asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to explain the reason for Adelkhah’s arrest. France’s foreign ministry also insisted on consular access to her “without delay,” to no avail. In October 2019, the ministry outright demanded Adelkhah’s release. In December of 2019, the French government summoned Iran’s ambassador and demanded again that Marchal and Adelkhah be released and that French consular officials be allowed to meet with them. France’s foreign minister reiterated those demands to his Iranian counterpart in February of 2020, and President Macron again urged Tehran to free Adelkhah after Marchal was freed in March of 2020.

SciencesPo has claimed that it is taking several steps to help Adelkhah and Marchal, working closely with the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the French National Centre for Scientific Research. The university specifically mentioned that it had made sure that the two hostages had a very experienced attorney who is on the Iranian regime’s approved list. In July of 2019, the SciencesPo faculty issued a message expressing their “warmest support” for Adekhah and her family and their “strong hope” for her speedy release. The International Sociological Association endorsed that message.

Also, in July of 2019, the president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the chair of its Committee on Academic Freedom sent a letter in support of Adelkhah to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and Major General Hossein Salami, the IRGC’s commander-in-chief. The MESA officials objected to the regime’s increasing imprisonment of academics and urged the recipients to free Adelkhah immediately and make sure she returned to France safely.

In May of 2020, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian decried Adelkhah’s sentence to prison time. “This sentencing was founded on no serious elements and was politically motivated,” he said. “So, we firmly say to the Iranian authorities to release Fariba Adelkhah without delay.” Le Drian added that “This decision makes our relations with the Iranian authorities a lot more difficult.”