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Iran charges French tourist with spying and ‘spreading propaganda’

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A view of Tehran, Iran
A view of Tehran, Iran   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File
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A French tourist who has been held in prison for months in Iran has been charged with spying and “spreading propaganda against the system”, his lawyer has said.

Benjamin Berier was arrested around 10 months ago after taking photos in an area where they are prohibited and asking questions “in the media” about the country’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women, his lawyer Saeed Dehghan wrote on Twitter.

Prosecutors presented the propaganda charges in a recent court hearing, he added, without specifying when.

A spying conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years in prison in Iran.

He is being held at a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the lawyer said.

Berier is just the latest in a line of western visitors to be arrested and detained, accused of spying or spreading propaganda.

British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was imprisoned in 2016 for "plotting to topple the Iranian government", was back in court last week on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime.

While she was released from after five years on 17 March last year, and then released from house arrest on 7 March this year, she has not been permitted to leave the country due to the new charges.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the situation as "totally unacceptable".

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's lawyer said the charges were based on her participation in a protest outside the Iranian embassy in London 12 years ago, and her involvement in an interview with the BBC's Persian news service.

The cases come amid escalating pressure from Iran on the US and European powers to ease sanctions imposed following the collapse of the nuclear deal.

Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the country, President Joe Biden has offered to join in talks toward restoring the deal.

But the US and Iran have reached an impasse, with each insisting the other move first to revive the deal.

Rights groups accuse hard-liners in Iran’s security agencies of using foreign detainees as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West.