SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 01, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Paris Institute of Political Studies

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In early June 2019, authorities in Iran reportedly arrested Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), during a research trip to the country.

Adelkhah, an Iranian-French dual-national, is director of research for the Centre for International Studies at Sciences Po and a member of the National Foundation of Political Science, in France. Widely considered an expert on post-revolutionary Iran, Adelkhah reportedly travels to the country frequently as part of her academic work.

The circumstances of Adelkhah’s arrest are unclear. Adelkhah had been traveling in Iran and Afghanistan for several months to conduct research and was reportedly due to return to France on June 24. While in Iran, Adelkhah spent time with an unidentified French student researching seminaries in the city of Qom. When Adelkhah failed to return to Paris on June 25, her colleagues alerted French authorities.

On July 16, Iranian authorities confirmed that Adelkhah had been arrested; however, as of this report, they have not publicly disclosed the grounds of her arrest. International media outlets have described unconfirmed reports of agents from the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arresting Adelkhah on espionage-related charges.

As of this report, Iranian authorities have declined requests by French officials to provide Adelkhah consular access. (The Iranian government does not recognize dual-nationality for its own citizens). According to one of her colleagues, Jean-François Bayart, Adelkhah is being held at Evin Prison and has been visited by family.

Over the years, a growing number of Iranian and foreign scholars and students have been imprisoned in Iran on national security and espionage-related charges. Detainees have experienced mistreatment, including torture, harassment, cramped living conditions, and denied access to appropriate medical care, family and legal counsel.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a scholar conducting academic research—conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting, retaliating against, or otherwise interfering with the nonviolent exercise of academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On October 15, 2019, French newspaper, Le Figaro, reported that Adelkhah’s colleague, Roland Marchal, also a researcher at Sciences Po, had been arrested. Marchal was reportedly in Iran on personal travel to visit Adelkhah while she was conducting her research. Sources indicate that the two were taken into custody around June 5. French authorities report that they have visited Marchal in prison, that he has been granted access to legal counsel, and that he is communication with his family. Iranian authorities have not confirmed or commented on Marchal’s arrest as of this update.

UPDATE: On March 21, 2020, it was reported that Marchal was released from prison as part of a prisoner swap agreement between Iran and France. Marchal has since returned to France.

UPDATE: On May 16, 2020, Iranian authorities sentenced Adelkhah to six years in prison on charges of “gathering and conspiring against Iran’s national security” and “for propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”