Iran confirms spying, propaganda charges against French detainee

Benjamin Briere to be tried for espionage — punishable by death — after allegedly being caught flying a drone and taking photos in restricted area; sister appeals to Macron

Illustrative: An unidentified defendant, back to camera, stands before a judge at the Revolutionary Court, in Tehran, Iran, February 18, 2012. (ILNA,Houshang Hadi/AP)
Illustrative: An unidentified defendant, back to camera, stands before a judge at the Revolutionary Court, in Tehran, Iran, February 18, 2012. (ILNA,Houshang Hadi/AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian prosecutors have confirmed a French national held in the Islamic Republic will be tried for espionage, his lawyer said Sunday, days after the detainee’s sister appealed to France’s president to intervene.

Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May 2020, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran. Briere has also been charged with “propaganda against the system,” which can incur a prison sentence of three months to one year.

Lawyer Said Dehghan, who also represents another French national held in the country, told AFP the investigation had been completed and the prosecution had confirmed the charges.

“The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the revolutionary court for the continuation of the judicial process,” Dehghan said.

Briere, who is being held in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, also faced accusations of “corruption on earth” — one of the most severe charges under Iranian law — and drinking alcohol, punishable by flogging, but they were dismissed after the investigation.

The announcement came days after an open letter from Briere’s sister, Blandine Briere, was published by French weekly Le Point, in which she appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron to push for her brother’s release.

She said the charges were “baseless” and that Briere had become a “negotiating tool.”

Briere’s lawyer in France said in a statement there has yet to be a response from Macron or the foreign ministry.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters on September 25, 2018, in New York. (AFP Photo/ludovic Marin)

Prisoner exchanges

In March, a French foreign ministry spokesman said Briere was benefitting from consular support and that Paris’ embassy in Tehran was in “regular contact” with him.

Arrests of foreigners in Iran — especially dual nationals, who are often accused of espionage — have multiplied since former US president Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.

World powers have been engaged in negotiations with Iran in Vienna since April to try and revive the deal.

The goal is to return Washington to the agreement and lift sanctions on Tehran, while also bringing Iran back into compliance with nuclear commitments.

Iran’s negotiators have said during the talks that Tehran is open to exchanging prisoners.

Over the past two years, Iran has conducted several exchanges of foreign prisoners with countries holding Iranian nationals.

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