Iran, France to swap Iranian engineer, French academic

People gather with banners at Trocadero square in Paris Tuesday Feb. 11 2020 calling for the release of French scientists Fariba Adelkhah et Roland Marchal

Iran and France wrapped up a prisoner swap Saturday when French academic Roland Marchal boarded a plane home.

Marchal, a senior researcher at Sciences Po university, was detained in June 2019 along fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah, a dual French-Iranian citizen.

The Iranian engineer had been arrested in the airport of Nice in France in 2019 at the request of the US Department of Justice.

Marchal was turned over to the French Embassy in Tehran, Iranian state TV said late Friday, hours after French authorities released Jalal Ruhollahnejad, an Iranian held in France.

The Trump administration sharply criticized France on Sunday for releasing an Iranian man who was to be prosecuted by the United States for an apparent prisoner exchange with Iran.

In May, a French court approved Rohollahnejad's extradition to the USA to face charges of attempting to illegally import American technology for military use on behalf of an Iranian company which United States officials believe has links to the elite Revolutionary Guards.

On March 11, a French court ordered Jalal to extradite the United States, but the government changed the court order and released the Iranian engineer.

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Iranian media earlier reported about the decision of Paris and Tehran to exchange prisoners.

Their Paris-based support group and the French foreign ministry had sounded the alarm over the health of both detainees - Adelkhah went on hunger strike for 49 days and Marchal's health is said to be deteriorating.

The support group has repeatedly said that the two are innocent of the charges they face.

Their worries had improved because of the accelerated spread of COVID-19 in Iran, among the most affected nations in the world having a death toll of 1,556 on Saturday.

Ahead of Iran's celebration of the Persian new year starting on Friday, authorities have released a number of global prisoners.

One of these is Iranian-British Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a worker of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who acquired temporary permission to leave prison on Tuesday.

Iran Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

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