Middle East

Jailed French tourist in Iran faces spying charges, lawyer says

DUBAI (Reuters) – A French tourist arrested in Iran 10 months ago, Benjamin Briere, faces charges of “spying and propaganda against the system”, one of his lawyers told Reuters on Monday.

He gave the new details of the case at a time of heightened tension between Tehran and the West, as the United States and European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal – including France – try to restore the pact abandoned in 2018 by then-US President Donald Trump.

US President Joe Biden has offered to join European countries in talks to revive the pact but Iran says Washington should first lift sanctions imposed in 2018 under Trump.

Briere, 35, was arrested after flying a helicam in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border, lawyer Saeid Dehghan said.

“On Sunday, March 15, he was charged with two counts of espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” Dehghan said, adding that Briere could face a long jail sentence.

“His last defense was taken yesterday. His spying charges is because of taking pictures in forbidden areas.”

Iran’s judiciary was not available to comment. Last month, France’s foreign ministry confirmed a French citizen was being held in Iran and said it was monitoring the situation.

“He is in Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad. His health is good and he has access to his lawyers and he benefits from consular protection and the French embassy officials have been in regular contact with him,” Dehghan said.

The lawyer said Briere had been charged with “propaganda against the system” because of a post on social media, in which he said “the hijab is mandatory” in Iran but not in other Islamic countries. 

“My colleagues and I believe that these charges are false and baseless, but we have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and announce his verdict,” Dehghan said.

A person close to his family told Reuters last month that Briere, who works in the events industry, had travelled to Iran by van from France.

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 arresting dual nationals and foreigners to seek concessions from other countries. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons and has accused many foreigners in its jails of espionage.

On Monday, Iran advised Britain against “politicizing” the detention of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, who faces a new charge of “propaganda against the system”.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage

FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the United Nations headquarters in Vienna June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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