Iran has charged a French tourist with spying and “spreading propaganda against the system,” his lawyer said, the latest in a series of cases against foreigners at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West.
Saeid Dehghan said that Benjamin Briere, 35, was arrested 10 months ago after flying a helicam in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.
“On Sunday, he (Briere) was charged with two counts of espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” Dehghan told Reuters news agency on Monday, adding that Briere faces a long-term jail sentence. Dehghan also stated the charges against Briere in a Twitter post on Monday.
“His last defence was taken yesterday. His spying charges is because of taking pictures in forbidden areas,” Dehghan told Reuters.
“He is in the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad. His health is good and he has access to his lawyers and also he benefits from consular protection and the French embassy officials have been in regular contact with him,” he added.
Iran’s judiciary was not available to comment. France has yet to comment on Briere’s charges.
Last month, France’s foreign ministry confirmed that a French citizen was being held in Iran and said it was monitoring the situation.
“Although the French government is pursuing Briere’s case, I am concerned that any delay in comprehensive follow-up will further complicate the case,” Dehghan said.
The lawyer said Briere has 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 Muslim-majority 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.
Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have arrested dozens of dual-nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
Rights activists have accused Tehran of doing so to try to win concessions from other countries. Iran denies it holds people for political reasons and has accused many of those held in its jails of espionage.
On Sunday, British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe reappeared in a Tehran court to face accusations of spreading propaganda after completing a full five-year prison sentence on spying charges. She remains in limbo in Iran awaiting the verdict, unable to fly home to the UK.
The cases come as Iran escalates pressure on the United States and European powers, including France and the United Kingdom, to grant the badly needed sanctions relief the country had received under its tattered nuclear accord with world powers under which it curbed its nuclear programme in return for sanctions being lifted.
While former US President Donald Trump abandoned the landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the country, President Joe Biden has offered to join talks towards restoring the deal, so long as Iran returns to full compliance with its terms. But Washington and Tehran have reached an impasse, with each insisting the other move first to revive the deal.