Frenchman held in Iran begins hunger strike

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A Frenchman held in Iran for more than 18 months on espionage charges he rejects has begun a hunger strike to protest at his detention conditions, his family said Monday.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in Iran last May, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

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“Benjamin started the hunger strike on December 25 because he was not allowed to call us for Christmas, but also to draw attention to the mistreatment he has suffered for twenty months,” his sister Blandine Briere told AFP.

“He sees no evolution in his case.”

His family describes him as an innocent tourist who set out in 2018 on a road trip in his camper van that began in Scandinavia before heading overland towards Iran.

His Iranian lawyer said in May that prosecutors had confirmed he would be tried for espionage as well as “propaganda against the system.” A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.

The French foreign ministry has described the spying charges against Briere, who is being held in the Valikabad prison in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, as “incomprehensible.”

“The Iranian judiciary have not yet decided which court will try the case,” said Blandine Briere.

“He is being held hostage for no reason,” she added. “It is completely illegal and we don’t know anything. Benjamin needs more from the French foreign ministry.”

In Paris, a foreign ministry spokesman said Monday that the government was following “our compatriot’s situation with the greatest attention.”

The French embassy in Tehran had been in regular contact with Briere, who the spokesman said was in Iran “as a tourist” when he was arrested.

The latest such visit took place on December 21, and the embassy contacted him again on Monday, the ministry spokesman said.

Briere is one of more than a dozen Western nationals held in Iran whom activists describe as hostages innocent of any crime, and detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guards to extract concessions from the West.

Iran insists they are held in accordance with Iranian law, but Tehran has in the past shown readiness to release Western nationals in exchange for the freedom of Iranians held abroad.

Briere is the only such Western detainee known to be held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.

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