A Frenchman, Benjamin Brière, has been detained in Iran for over a year and a half for « espionage ». He has started a hunger strike to protest his conditions of detention, his family announced on Monday (December 27th).
« Benjamin started the hunger strike on December 25 because he was not allowed to call us for the Christmas holidays, but also to denounce the mistreatment he has suffered for twenty months », his sister told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Mr. Brière, 36, was arrested in May 2020 for taking « Photographs of prohibited areas » with a recreational drone in an Iranian natural park, according to his lawyer. The Frenchman has always presented himself as a tourist, denying all the accusations against him.
Tried for « espionage » and « propaganda »
Benjamin Brière is being held in Valikabad prison, in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. « He sees no change in his situation », again lamented his sister. According to her, he was arrested while crossing Iran as a tourist, during a long trip in a campervan that began in 2018.
In May, his Iranian lawyer had let it be known that Mr. Brière would be tried for “espionage” and “propaganda” against the political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Espionage carries the death penalty in this country.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs ruled « Incomprehensible » these accusations. “He is being held hostage for no reason. It’s completely illegal, we don’t know anything. Benjamin needs more French diplomacy ”, added the Frenchman’s sister.
Only westerner detained without Iranian passport
Iran retains more than a dozen Western passport holders, most of them binational, which NGOs condemn as a hostage-taking policy designed to obtain concessions from foreign powers. In recent years, the Islamic Republic has indeed carried out several exchanges of detainees with foreign countries. Mr. Brière is the only known Westerner detained in Iran who does not have an Iranian passport.
Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah has been detained since June 2019 and was sentenced in May 2020 to five years in prison for attacks on national security. She has been under house arrest since October 2020. Her companion, Roland Marchal, also a researcher, was detained with her before being released in March 2020, after Paris freed Iranian engineer Jalal Rohollahnejad, whom the United States claimed extradition for violating US sanctions against Iran.