French detainee in Iran faces spying charges

TEHERAN • Iranian prosecutors have confirmed that a French national held in the Islamic republic will be tried for espionage, his lawyer said yesterday, days after the detainee's sister appealed to France's President to intervene.

Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May last year, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area. A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.

He has also been charged with "propaganda against the system", which can incur a prison sentence of three months to one year.

"The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the revolutionary court for the continuation of the judicial process," said Briere's lawyer Said Dehghan.

Briere, who is being held in the city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, also faced accusations of "corruption on earth" - one of the most severe charges under Iranian law - and drinking alcohol, punishable by flogging, but they were dismissed after the investigation.

The announcement came days after an open letter from Briere's sister, Ms Blandine Briere, was published by French weekly Le Point, in which she appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron to push for her brother's release.

Briere's lawyer in France said there has yet to be a response from Mr Macron or the Foreign Ministry.

In March, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Briere was benefiting from consular support and that Paris' embassy in Teheran was in regular contact with him.

Arrests of foreigners in Iran have multiplied since former United States president Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed harsh sanctions against Teheran.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2021, with the headline 'French detainee in Iran faces spying charges'. Subscribe