French national jailed in Iran since 2020 goes on hunger strike

Benjamin Briere, 36, is being detained over alleged spying and propaganda against Iran – charges he rejects as fabricated.

Benjamin Briere posing for a picture at an undisclosed location
Briere's family describes him as an innocent tourist [File: Photo by Saeid Dehghan's Twitter account/AFP]

A French man jailed in Iran for more than 18 months on espionage charges he rejects as fabricated has begun a hunger strike to protest against his continued detention, his lawyer and family say.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in May last year after flying a helicam – a remote-controlled mini helicopter – in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border, and charged with spying and propaganda against Iran.

His family describes him as an innocent tourist who set out in 2018 on a road trip in his camper van that began in Scandinavia before heading overland towards Iran.

“The feeling of abandonment – and distress – has led Benjamin Briere to embark on a hunger strike in order to alert Iranian and French authorities to the absurdity of his detention,” his sister Blandine Briere and lawyer Philippe Valent said in an emailed statement cited by the Reuters news agency on Monday.

French authorities remain in close contact with Briere, visiting him on December 21 and contacting him on Monday, Reuters reported a French foreign ministry spokesperson as saying.

Briere’s Iranian lawyer said in May that prosecutors had confirmed he would be tried for espionage as well as “propaganda against the system”.

A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.

‘Completely illegal’ detention

Blandine Briere, Benjamin’s sister, told the AFP news agency her brother was being “held hostage for no reason”.

“It is completely illegal and we don’t know anything,” she said, before calling for more action on the case from the French foreign ministry.

Briere is one of more than a dozen Western nationals held in Iran whom activists and rights groups describe as hostages innocent of any crime, and detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guard to extract concessions from the West, although Iran has insisted that they are held in accordance with Iranian law.

Tehran has in the past shown readiness to release Western nationals in exchange for the freedom of Iranians held abroad.

Briere is the only such Western detainee known to be held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.

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

Fellow French academic Roland Marchal, who was detained with her, was released in March 2020 after France released Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who faced extradition to the United States over accusations he violated sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington.

Source: News Agencies