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Iran frees French researcher in apparent prisoner swap for jailed engineer

Iranian engineer incarcerated for more than year in French prisons and accused of circumventing American sanctions against Iran is also freed
Jallal Rohollahnejad embraces family members upon his arrival in Tehran on Saturday (AFP)

French researcher Roland Marchal returned to Paris on Saturday after being imprisoned in Iran for more than nine months, after France released an Iranian threatened with extradition to the US.

"Roland has returned," his support group announced in a short message. A supporter told AFP that the freed researcher had been taken to a military hospital near Paris to assess his condition.

The detentions have complicated ties between the two countries during a period when French President Emmanuel Macron was seeking to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran, Reuters said.

The detentions have coincided with a protracted stand-off with western powers prompted by a US decision to withdraw from an international agreement to curb Iranian nuclear activities.

France has for months demanded that Iran release Marchal and his partner, Fariba Adelkhah, who were detained last year and accused of plotting against national security. Adelkhah is a citizen of both Iran and France, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe temporarily released
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The Iranian judiciary's news agency Mizan Online reported Iranian Jallal Rohollahnejad had been freed by France on Friday.

Iranian state television showed images of him hugging members of his family during an emotional reunion in Tehran.

Rohollahnejad, "an Iranian engineer incarcerated for more than a year in French prisons and accused of circumventing American sanctions against Iran, has been freed today," Mizan said.

He stood accused in the United States of trying to smuggle technological material into Iran in violation of US sanctions.

"Thanks be to god, those days have ended," Rohollahnejad said in an interview on Iranian state television.

Adelkhah, 60, an anthropologist and expert on Shia Islam, faces charges of "propaganda against the system" and "colluding to commit acts against national security," according to the researchers' lawyer.

Her colleague Marchal, 64, a specialist on East Africa, was accused of the same national security charge, the lawyer said.

Their Paris-based support group has repeatedly said that the two are innocent of the charges. They said the fight continues to secure Adelkhah's release.

Ahead of Iran's celebration of the Persian New Year starting Friday, authorities had released a number of international prisoners.

Iran this week also freed for two weeks Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media organisation's philanthropic arm. She has been confined to her parents' home in west Tehran wearing an ankle tag.

US Navy veteran Michael White was freed on Thursday. He was handed over in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad to a team from Switzerland, which represents US interests in the absence of diplomatic relations, and flown to the capital Tehran, the US State Department said.