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Benjamin Brière: French tourist jailed in Iran for eight years for spying, says lawyer

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By Euronews  with AFP
A woman holds a photo of Benjamin Briere during a rally in Paris earlier this month.
A woman holds a photo of Benjamin Briere during a rally in Paris earlier this month.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File   -  

A French citizen accused of spying in Iran has been jailed for more than eight years, his lawyer has announced.

Benjamin Brière was found guilty of "espionage" by an Iranian revolutionary court and given an eight-year sentence, lawyer Philippe Valent told AFP.

The 36-year-old was arrested in May 2020 for taking "photographs of prohibited areas" using a remote-controlled camera in an Iranian natural park near the border with Turkmenistan.

He was also convicted of "propaganda" against the Iranian regime and sentenced to an additional eight months in prison, his lawyer said.

Brière has been held in detention in Iran for over 18 months and has always claimed he was a tourist in the country. He went on hunger strike at Valikabad prison in Mashhad in December to protest against his detention conditions.

"Benjamin Brière has obviously not - nor has he ever - been given a fair trial before impartial judges," Valent said in a statement, adding that he would appeal.

"He was not given any right to defend himself, no access to the prosecution's case, no opportunity to prepare and present a defense before the judges of the Revolutionary Court," he added.

"The family of Benjamin Brière is now calling on the French authorities to take immediate steps to allow his repatriation".

On Tuesday, France's foreign ministry said that the eight-year prison sentence had no basis in fact and was "unacceptable".

Brière's sister Blandine Brière said told AFP that her brother was a "political hostage" and also expressed concern about his health.

"It is clear that this is a useful political trial for Iran, which sends a message to the French government," she said. "We are nothing in the face of this, we feel like pawns in a diplomatic game."

More than a dozen Western nationals or dual-nationals are currently being held in Iran on espionage charges in what NGOs have labeled a hostage-taking policy.

Tehran is currently engaged in delicate negotiations in Vienna with the international community to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was supposed to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of trying to extract concessions from other countries through the arrests.

Brière’s conviction comes after researcher Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist with dual French-Iranian citizenship, was sent back to prison earlier this month.

Adelkhah has been detained in Iran since June 2019 and was given a five-year sentence for “gathering and collusion” against Iran’s security. She had been under house arrest since October 2020.

In recent years, Iran has carried out several prisoner exchanges with foreign countries.