Two years of detention of Fariba Adelkhah
In Defence of Freedom of Research
by Alain Dieckhoff, Director of the CERI
It is hard to believe, but as of the 5th of June 2021 it has been two years since Fariba Adelkhah, Research Director at the CERI, was arrested in Iran, together with Roland Marchal, CNRS Senior researcher at the CERI. Roland was freed on the 20th of March 2020 following long and complex diplomatic negotiations, and after nine and a half gruelling months of detention. Unfortunately, Fariba is still detained against her will. Although her situation has somewhat improved since she was placed under house arrest in October 2020, she is still deprived the basic right to come and go as she wishes, and thus the right to leave Iran. She is still sentenced to a five-year prison term for “collusion to undermine national security”, a revolting sentence that the academic community at Sciences Po, but also in France and abroad, will continue to fiercely oppose.
However painful Fariba’s fate is for us, it has generated a wide and welcome reflection on the freedom of research and on academic freedom more generally. When all is well, as scholars we do not ordinarily question our profession more than incidentally. A major crisis such as the extended detention of our colleague sheds a brutal light on the fact that the freedom to conduct research—which we can legitimately consider a given—should not be taken for granted. Perhaps because many of us work in sensitive areas, from authoritarian regimes to conflict zones, we know the need to combine caution and ruse, flexibility and determination, to carry out our research and conduct our interviews. But it is one thing to know this on an abstract and theoretical level and something quite different to concretely experience the very real fragility of our condition as researchers in these specific fields. We find ourselves in a genuinely difficult situation; we must pursue our work elucidating the social world—including in complex environments—in the knowledge that we run the risk of finding ourselves unjustly accused.
This reflection on the figure of the researcher has also shown that impediments to freedom of research are not the prerogative of dictatorial regimes alone. Of course, they occur in vastly different ways in open societies. In the latter, the guarantee of freedom of speech offers a strong protection to scholars, but it does not solve everything. In democratic states, obstacles emerge particularly in work on sensitive issues (military, policing, migration policies…). In these areas, it is often difficult to obtain access to primary sources, be it in establishing relationships with institutional actors (army, diplomacy…) or in the impossibility of accessing certain archives. It is understandable that even in a democratic state transparency cannot be absolute, but everything is a question of balance. The protection of the interests of public authorities should not be used as an excuse to prevent research that might shed light into dark places.
More than ever our demand is loud and clear: Freedom for Fariba! Freedom for research!
Read the text by the Support Committee.