French tourist detained in Iran on spying charges to appear in court

·2 min read

French tourist, Benjamin Briere, is to appear before a Revolutionary Court in Iran on Thursday on spying charges, more than a year after he was arrested while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area of the country.

Briere's trial takes place days after authorities in Tehran put French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah back in jail for breaking house arrest restrictions.

"Benjamin will attend the court to be tried for spying and acting against national security," one of Briere's lawyers, Saeid Dehghan, told Reuters.

Briere has been held since May 2020, when he was arrested after flying a helicam - a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images - in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. He was charged with espionage and "propaganda against the Islamic Republic".

His trial comes as the United States and parties to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, including France, are trying to revive the pact, which was abandoned in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

Rights activists have accused Iran of using the arrests to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.

Breaking house arrest?

Adelkhah was put back in jail for breaking house arrest restrictions, an official from the Islamic republic's judiciary authority said Sunday.

Her Paris-based support group on Wednesday announced the news "with great shock and indignation".

"Ms Adelkhah... has unfortunately knowingly violated the limits of house arrest dozens of times," Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary, was quoted as saying by Mizan Online, the authority's news agency.

"She has insisted on doing so despite repeated warnings from judicial authorities. So now, like any other prisoner who has violated the same rules... she has been returned to prison," he added.

Adelkhah, 62, an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France's prestigious Sciences Po university, was arrested on 5 June 2019, at Tehran airport.

She was sentenced in May 2020 to five years' in prison for conspiring against national security, accusations that her supporters have always denounced as absurd. In October of that year, she was placed under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.

Adelkhah's support group on Sunday rejected the judiciary's accusations and said she had followed the rules.

(With wires)

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