France says concerned for health of French-Irish citizen held in Iran

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France is extremely worried about the health of a French-Irish citizen held in Iran since October 2022, who relatives say is on hunger strike, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

It said Bernard Phelan was one of seven French nationals currently held arbitrarily by Iran, and Paris was “extremely worried about his health, which is poor and requires appropriate medical monitoring, which is not ensured in detention.”

Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant, 64, was arrested in October and is being held in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, according to Irish media reports.

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He is one of two dozen foreigners who are currently held in Iran, according to activists, who describe the detainees as “hostages” seized to extract concessions from the West.

Phelan’s sister, Caroline Masse-Phelan, told AFP her brother had started a dry hunger strike on Monday, refusing water, in addition to the food hunger strike he had been on since the start of the year.

“He is not doing well. He has lost weight,” she said, adding that she and their father, aged 97, were “extremely worried.”

For her, the situation is all the more incomprehensible given her brother “adored Iran.”

“He worked for tour operators, bringing tourists to Iran,” she said.

She said Phelan had not been put on trial but arrested on accusations of spreading anti-regime propaganda.

“We are stepping up the pressure on Iran, in coordination with the Irish government, to ensure that our compatriot is released without delay,” the French foreign ministry said.

Ireland’s foreign ministry said it had “been providing consular assistance, in close coordination with France, since the outset.”

“The case has also been raised directly with the Iranian authorities, stressing the health condition of Mr Phelan and making the case for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds.”

Phelan was travelling through Mashhad during the ongoing protests against Iran’s clerical regime when he was arrested.

He is being held in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad.

Fellow French national Benjamin Briere, who was sentenced last year to eight years in prison on spying charges, is being held in the same prison.

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