By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) – French tourist Benjamin Briere, who was arrested in Iran 10 months ago, faces charges of “spying and propaganda against the system”, one of his lawyers told Reuters on Monday, at a time of heightened tension between Tehran and the West.
The revelation comes as the United States and European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, including France, are trying to restore the pact that was abandoned in 2018 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. President Joe Biden has offered to join European countries in talks to revive the accord, but Tehran says Washington should first lift sanctions imposed in 2018 by Trump.
“On Sunday, he (Briere) was charged with two counts of espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” his lawyer Saeid Dehghan said, adding that Briere faces a long-term jail sentence.
Dehghan said the 35-year-old had been arrested after flying a helicam in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.
“His last defence was taken yesterday. His spying charges is because of taking pictures in forbidden areas,” Dehghan said.
“He is in the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad. His health is good and he has access to his lawyers and also he benefits from consular protection and the French embassy officials have been in regular contact with him.”
Iran’s judiciary was not available to comment. France has yet to comment on Briere’s charges. Last month, France’s foreign ministry confirmed that a French citizen was being held in Iran and said it was monitoring the situation.
“Although the French government is pursuing Briere’s case, I am concerned that any delay in comprehensive follow-up will further complicate the case,” Dehghan said.
The lawyer said Briere has been charged with “propaganda against the system” because of a post on social media, in which he said “the hijab is mandatory” in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but not in other Islamic countries.
“My colleagues and I believe that these charges are false and baseless, but we have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and announce his verdict,” Dehghan said.
A person close to his family told Reuters last month that Briere, who works in the events industry, had travelled to Iran by van from France.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual nationals and foreigners to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies it holds people for political reasons and has accused many of the foreigners in its jails of espionage.
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