June 28, 2022 – Countries negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, including France, the U.K., and the U.S., as well as European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, should condemn the Iranian judiciary’s blatantly unlawful prison sentence against French tourist Benjamin Brière, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Brière was detained by Iran’s security establishment to be added as yet another pawn in the government’s arsenal of human bargaining chips,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“Individuals continue to be nabbed and used to extract political and economic concessions from other countries,” said Ghaemi. “Silence in the face of this blatant extortion reflects an inability to enact meaningful consequences and will only result in more hostages,” he added.
CHRI calls on all heads of state, especially those negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, and the relevant UN special procedures to loudly condemn the Iranian government’s practice of blatant hostage-taking.
Arrested for Flying Remote Camera, Blocked from Accessing Counsel
An Iranian appeals court upheld a prison sentence against Brière of eight years and eight months on June 28, 2022, on the charges of espionage in collaboration with France (which was referred to by the court as an “enemy government”) and carrying out propaganda against the Islamic Republic, one of Brière’s lawyers, Saeid Dehghan, told CHRI.
“It should be noted that never before has a court in Iran referred to France as an ‘enemy government,’” said Dehghan.
The propaganda charge included “expressing sympathy” for the victims of a passenger plane shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in January 2020, added Dehghan.
Brière was also accused of having “suspicious communications” with individuals opposed to the state and using his skills and equipment as a computer specialist.
Dehghan added that Brière is also facing charges for having sexual relations with Iranian women, but no date has been set for the trial.
Brière, who is in Vakilabad Prison in the city of Mashhad, was blocked from accessing counsel for the first nine months of detainment after being arrested in May 2020 while flying a helicam, a remote-controlled mini-helicopter with a camera, near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan.
Referred to as a travel blogger by media outlets, Brière documented his travels through photography including long-range self-portraits.
France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs called the initial sentence against Brière “groundless” and “unacceptable” in January 2020.
At Least 18 Foreign and Dual Nationals Currently Detained in Iran Without Due Process
Brière is among at least 18 foreign and dual nationals currently detained in Iran without being allowed access to internationally recognized standards of due process.
The actual number of dual and foreign nationals held in Iran is likely higher, but the names of individuals are often withheld by the detainees’ families, who are pressured by the Iranian authorities to keep their cases secret, and falsely promised a quicker release if they do so.
Iranian-born French academic Fariba Adelkhah, as well as French citizens Cecile Kohler (a teachers’ union official) and her husband Jacques Paris, are among a group of French citizens currently detained in Iran.
Adelkhah, a Sciences Po university research director who is serving a five-year prison sentence in Tehran, has been in state custody since 2019 and was reimprisoned in January 2020 after being released on a brief furlough while her French passport was withheld to prevent her from leaving the country.
Charges against Kohler and Paris have not been publicized by Iranian authorities, who have tried to implicate them in fomenting teachers’ rights protests in Iran even though the protests have been occurring throughout the country for years, well before the French couple visited.
“If the international community refuses to hold Iran accountable for its hostage-taking through a united front of countries, more foreign citizens will be nabbed by the Iranian government’s security apparatus,” said Ghaemi. “Failing to act now endangers everyone.”