Warsaw says Polish scientist held by Iran for alleged spying has been freed

Poland announces release of Maciej Walczak, as Ireland confirms that it’s working with France to spring dual national arrested amid recent protests against regime

An undated photo of Maciej Walczak as aired by Iran's Fars news agency. (Video screenshot)
An undated photo of Maciej Walczak as aired by Iran's Fars news agency. (Video screenshot)

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish scientist held in Iran for months was released and returned home to Poland in December, a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP on Friday.

Maciej Walczak, a researcher at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, central Poland, is “safe and sound and with his family,” Lukasz Jasina said in a message to AFP, without elaborating.

Copernicus University spokesman Marcin Czyzniewski said several months ago that Walczak had been held in Iran since September 2021.

Last year, Iranian state media reports identified Walczak as one of several foreigners detained on spying allegations.

The reports said he took samples of soil, water and salt from a forbidden area while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was carrying out ballistic missile tests.

Also Friday, Ireland’s foreign ministry confirmed that authorities in Dublin are working closely with France to free Bernard Phelan, an Irish-French national, who was jailed in Iran in October.

Phelan, a Paris-based tourism consultant, is being held in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad city on multiple charges, including disseminating anti-regime propaganda and taking pictures of security services.

He has denied all the charges.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is aware of the case and has been providing consular assistance in close coordination with France since the outset,” a spokesperson for the department told AFP.

“The case has also been raised directly with the Iranian authorities,” they added, declining to comment on specifics.

Originally from Clonmel in the southern county of Tipperary, Phelan, 64, was traveling through Mashhad in the wake of recent protests against Iran’s clerical government when he was arrested.

According to the Irish Times, he began a hunger strike at the start of the year.

His family has said they are concerned for the health of the tour operator who suffers from a heart condition, explaining that as well as refusing food, he has also stopped taking his medication.

His sister, Caroline Masse-Phelan, has highlighted the cramped and cold conditions her brother has been forced to endure in Vakilabad Prison.

She believes he has been detained in a political dispute between Paris and Tehran and was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Phelan is one of dozens of Western nationals held in Iran, described by activists as hostages innocent of any crime and detained at the behest of the powerful IRGC to use as leverage against Western powers.

The individuals have been jailed against the backdrop of talks on reviving a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

Nationals of all three European powers involved in the talks on the Iranian nuclear program — Britain, France and Germany — are among the foreigners being held.

Iran has been rocked by a wave of anti-regime protests in recent months that have further strained ties between Tehran and the West and risk limiting the scope for diplomacy with the Islamic Republic.

Almost a year ago, an Iranian court sentenced French national Benjamin Briere to eight years in prison on spying charges.

Tehran has insisted all the foreigners held are on the grounds of domestic law but has also expressed readiness for prisoner swaps.

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