An Iranian court on Tuesday sentenced a French man to eight years in prison on charges of spying. Benjamin Brière, 36, was arrested in May 2020 for flying a recreational drone in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border while on vacation in Iran.
As we reported earlier, Iran prohibits photography in the area and pretty much bans drones altogether. But Brière, who had been traveling and living in a van in the region, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, he has also been on a hunger strike since Christmas to protest mistreatment in the Iranian jail where he’s being held.
Brière’s Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent calls Tuesday’s verdict “a result of a purely political process.” France’s foreign ministry has also called the conviction “unacceptable,” saying it has “no basis in fact.”
The trial, which began last Thursday, was held behind closed doors. Valent says Brière was not even fully informed of the charges against him that included asking questions on social media about Iran’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women. And now, the French tourist has been given an additional eight-month sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
Brière holds dual French and Iranian citizenship, but he’s known to be the only Western detainee in Iran currently who does not also hold an Iranian passport. Stressing that his client has been growing “weaker and weaker” from the ongoing hunger strike, Valent says Brière “obviously did not – nor ever – benefit from any form of a fair trial before impartial judges.”
Here’s a post from Brière’s Instagram account from before he was arrested:
The charges against Brière come at a time when France, along with Germany and the UK, has been in talks with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal that seeks to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The negotiations, so far, have been inconclusive.
It’s also worth highlighting that while charging Brière, the Iranian court labeled France as a “hostile nation” – a characterization the Middle Eastern nation usually reserves for the US and Israel. As Valent tells Reuters:
It is unacceptable that Benjamin Brière remains a hostage to negotiations on the part of a regime that persists in its desire to arbitrarily detain a French citizen and use him as a bargaining chip.
Brière will appeal against the ruling, Saeid Dehghan, one of his Iranian lawyers, says, adding:
His sentence is based on a different legal clause than the earlier one… He has been convicted of cooperation with hostile states against Iran which carries a longer sentence than his previous one.
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