Two French citizens leave Iran after release from prison: Paris

Tehran says the release of Bernard Phelan and Benjamin Briere, jailed for alleged spying, is a ‘humanitarian action’.

Bernard Phelan
Bernard Phelan had been held in Iran since October [Family handout via AFP]

Iran has released two French citizens, Bernard Phelan and Benjamin Briere, from a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad, according to French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We will continue to work towards the return of those of our fellow nationals who are still detained in Iran,” Macron said on Friday on Twitter.

Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran’s detentions of six French nationals in what Paris has described as arbitrary arrests equivalent to state hostage-taking.

Catherine Colonna, the French foreign minister, said in a separate statement that Phelan and Briere were on their way to France.

The Iranian foreign ministry described their release as a “humanitarian action”.


Phelan, a 64-year-old Franco-Irish citizen, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison in April for “providing information to another country”, said his family, who raised concerns about his poor health. The Paris-based travel consultant was arrested in October in Mashhad.

Phelan went on a dry hunger strike in January to protest his detention but stopped the action at the request of his family, who feared he would die.

Demonstrators hold portraits of Benjamin Briere
Demonstrators hold photos of French detainees Benjamin Briere, left, and Jacques Paris [File: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP]

Briere, 37, had been held in Iran since May 2020 when he was arrested after flying a remote-controlled mini-helicopter near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.

An Iranian court in March sentenced him to eight years in prison on spying charges.

He was later acquitted by an appeals court but remained in prison in a situation called “incomprehensible” by his family.

Like Phelan, Briere was held in the prison of Vakilabad in Mashhad and went on hunger strikes to protest his conditions.

Four more French citizens, described previously as “hostages” by the French foreign ministry, are still imprisoned by Iran.

Source: News Agencies