Frenchman jailed for eight years in Iran on spying charges

·2 min read

Iran's Revolutionary Court has sentenced Benjamin Brière to eight years in prison on espionage charges, his family and Paris-based lawyer said Tuesday, arguing that Tehran was using him as a "hostage" in talks with the West.

36-year-old is the only Western detainee known to be currently held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.

In a statement, the Brière's lawyer Philippe Valent said he was also given an additional eight-month sentence for propaganda against Iran's Islamic system.

The Frenchman, who is being held in Vakilabad jail in the eastern city of Mashhad, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a national park with a recreational drone and is currently on hunger strike.

"This verdict is the result of a purely political process and [...] devoid of any basis," Valent added.

Calling the trial a "masquerade", the lawyer maintains that Brière "did not have a fair trial in front of impartial judges" and noted he had not been given access to the full indictment against him.

'Unacceptable' verdict

Meanwhile, France's foreign ministry has described the verdict as "unacceptable", saying Brière was a tourist.

Brière is one of more than a dozen Western citizens being held in Iran, who activists say are being held hostage and detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guard to extract concessions from the West.

The verdict against Brière comes as Iran and world powers are seeking to reach agreement at talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 deal over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Nationals from all three European powers involved in the talks - Britain, France and Germany - are among the foreigners being held.

Hunger strike

Brière's sister Blandine has told the media that her brother is a "political hostage", being subjected to a "parody of justice".

"It is a political trial and it is useful to Iran, which is sending a message to the French government," she said.

Valent said Brière has been "more and more weakened" by a hunger strike he began at Christmas in protest at the lack of progress in his case.

Iran is also holding the French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in June 2019 and sentenced to five years in prison in May 2020 on national security charges.

In October 2020, she was moved to house arrest but in a surprise development this month Iran jailed her again, saying she had violated house arrest rules.

Adelkhah was arrested with her French colleague and partner Roland Marchal, who was freed in March 2020 in an apparent prisoner swap after France released Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad.

(with wires)

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