June 30, 2022

Frenchman detained in Iran for over a year and a half begins hunger strike, family announces

Arrested in May 2020, Benjamin Brière is still being held in a prison in the northeast of the country. Prosecuted for “espionage”, he denounces “mistreatment”, his sister told AFP.

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Benjamin Brière, a Frenchman detained in Iran for more than a year and a half for “espionage”, has started a hunger strike to protest against his conditions of detention, his family told AFP on Monday (December 27th). Aged 36, he has always presented himself as a tourist and denies the charges against him. He was arrested in May 2020 for taking “photographs of prohibited areas” with a recreational drone in a natural park in Iran, according to his lawyer. The Frenchman is being held in Valikabad prison, in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.

“Benjamin started the hunger strike on December 25 because he was not allowed to call us for the Christmas holidays, but also to denounce the mistreatment he has suffered for twenty months”, said his sister Blandine. “He doesn’t see any change in his situation.” According to her, her brother was arrested in May 2020 while crossing Iran as a tourist, during a long trip in a campervan that began in 2018.

Last May, his Iranian lawyer clarified that Benjamin Brière would be tried for “espionage” and “propaganda” against the political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Espionage carries the death penalty in this country. The Foreign Ministry has ruled “incomprehensible” these accusations. “He’s taken hostage for no reason. It’s completely illegal, we don’t know anything. Benjamin needs more French diplomacy”, added Blandine Brière.

Iran retains more than a dozen Western passport holders, most of them binational, which NGOs condemn as a hostage-taking policy intended to obtain concessions from foreign powers. In recent years, the Islamic Republic has carried out several exchanges of detainees with foreign countries. Benjamin Brière is the only known westerner detained in Iran who does not have an Iranian passport.

Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah has been detained since June 2019 and was sentenced in May 2020 to five years in prison for attacks on national security. She has been under house arrest since October 2020. Her companion, Roland Marchal, also a researcher, was detained with her before being released in March 2020, after Paris freed Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, whom the United States claimed extradition for violating US sanctions against Iran.