Isolation was worse than interrogations, says researcher freed by Iran

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Roland Marchal, the French researcher freed last month after more than nine months imprisoned in Iran, detailed on Monday the conditions of his confinement, with only the occasional book, odd visit or exchanges with other inmates to keep him sane.

In his first public statements since returning to France as part of a prisoner exchange, Mr Marchal said the isolation was worse than the interrogations.

"I was not physically tortured, but I suffered greatly from my confinement, and above all, my isolation," he said in a written message transmitted by his support group of friends and colleagues.

"Much more than the interrogations, it is confinement – very different to the type imposed on us because of the coronavirus – which proved very painful," he said.

Members of Iranian Red Crescent test people with possible coronavirus Covid-19 symptoms, as police blocked Tehran to Alborz highway to check every car following ordered by the Iranian government, outside Tehran. AFP

General view of a deserted street, during the intercity ban, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran. REUTERS

A member of the Iranian Army works at a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

Iranian army soldiers work in a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

People in protective clothing work in a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

Firefighters disinfect a square against the new coronavirus as a man takes film, in western Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

A police vehicle disinfects streets against the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

A statue wearing a protective face mask is pictured, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Azadi square, in Tehran, Iran. REUTERS

A man wearing a protective face mask and gloves, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), jumps rope at Valiasr street in Tehran, Iran. REUTERS

A traffic police officer wears a protective face mask and gloves, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as he walks in Tehran, Iran. REUTERS

A member of Iranian red crescents test passengers of a bus for possible coronavirus Covid-19 symptoms, as police blocked Tehran to Alborz highway to check every car following ordered by Iranian government, outside of Tehran. EPA

Members of Iranian Red Crescent get themselves disinfected after testing people for possible coronavirus Covid-19 symptoms, outside of Tehran. EPA

"Only the books... to which I had partial access, and friendships struck with a few inmates allowed me to hold on in a universe where each day resembles the previous and the next," Mr Marchal said.

Imprisoned in Iran since June 2019, Mr Marchal was freed by Iran on March 20 after France released an Iranian, Jalal Rohollahnejad, who was facing extradition to the United States on accusations he tried to smuggle technology materials into Iran in violation of American sanctions.

Mr Marchal and his partner, fellow researcher Fariba Adelkhah, were detained on accusations of plotting against national security. The pair, who work at the Centre for International Studies at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, have denied the charges.

Ms Adelkhah remains in jail. She has both French and Iranian citizenship, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality.

Mr Marchal said he had been able to see Ms Adelkhah "only three times" during his imprisonment, each time for a few minutes and "under strict surveillance of interrogators."

He became aware only afterwards that she went on a hunger strike that lasted 49 days to protest Iran's detention of researchers. Ms Adelkhah stopped her protest in February at the urging of her support committee after her health deteriorated sharply.

Mr Marchal thanked everyone who contributed to his liberation, and who are "continuing to mobilise for Fariba's" freedom.

Iran, the Middle Eastern country most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, has reported more than 60,500 infections, a figure that some foreign experts suspect is an underestimate.

The country's prison inmates have been hit particularly hard.

Updated: April 6, 2020 05:34 PM

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