PARIS, France — A Frenchman held in Iran for over one and a half years on espionage charges he vehemently rejects has begun a hunger strike to protest his detention conditions, his family said on Monday.
Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in Iran in May last year, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.
“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 told AFP.
“He sees no evolution in his case,” she added.
His family describes him as an innocent tourist who set out in 2018 on a long-term road trip in his camper van that began in Scandinavia before heading overland towards Iran.
His Iranian lawyer said in May prosecutors had confirmed that 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 prison of Valikabad 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. It is completely illegal and we don’t know anything. Benjamin needs more from the French foreign ministry.”
a French hostage in Iran
We should not forget him, he is now on a hunger strike.
France must not remain silent. pic.twitter.com/UszoVJvZU9
— Dariush Arai (@dariusharai) December 27, 2021
Briere is one of over a dozen Western nationals held in Iran who 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 and full legal process, but Tehran has in the past shown readiness to release Western nationals in exchange for the freedom of Iranians held abroad to extract concessions from the West.
Briere is the only such Western detainee known to be currently held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.
Iran is also holding French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah who was detained in June 2019 and in May 2020 sentenced to five years in prison on national security charges. In October 2020, she was moved to house arrest.
Fellow French academic Roland Marchal, who was detained with her, was released in March 2020 in an apparent prisoner swap.
Marchal was freed after France released Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who faced extradition to the United States over accusations he violated US sanctions against Iran.