Iran jails French man for eight years on spying charges

Benjamin Briere was also given an additional eight-month sentence for propaganda against Iran’s Islamic system.

Benjamin Briere posing for a picture at an undisclosed location
This undated handout picture obtained from the Twitter account of Saeid Dehghan, a lawyer of French national Benjamin Briere, shows Briere posing for a picture at an undisclosed location [File: AFP]

A court in Iran has sentenced a French man to eight years in jail on spying charges, his Paris-based lawyer said, denouncing his trial as a sham and the accusations as baseless.

Benjamin Briere, 36, has been held in Iran since May 2020, when he was arrested after flying a helicam – a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images – in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.

Currently on hunger strike, he was also given an additional eight-month sentence for propaganda against Iran’s Islamic system, his lawyer Philippe Valent said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This verdict is the result of a purely political process that is … devoid of any basis,” he said.

Slamming the trial, which began on Thursday, as a “masquerade”, he added that Briere “did not have a fair trial in front of impartial judges” and noted he had not been allowed to access the full indictment against him.

France slammed as “unacceptable” the jail sentence. “This verdict, which nothing can justify, is unacceptable,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that Briere had been arrested “while travelling as a tourist” in Iran.

In recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on charges related to espionage and security.

Briere’s trial came as the United States and parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, including France, tried to revive the pact after then-US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the agreement in 2018.

“It is not tolerable that Benjamin Briere is being held a hostage to negotiations by a regime which keeps a French citizen arbitrarily detained merely to use him as currency in an exchange,” Valent added.

He said Briere was “more and more weakened” by a hunger strike that has now lasted a month.

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.

Earlier this month, Iran re-imprisoned Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, sentenced to five years in jail in 2020 but recently living under house arrest. France has demanded Adelkhah’s immediate release.

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 US over accusations he violated sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington.

Source: News Agencies