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French tourist jailed in Iran faces spying charge, lawyer says

Benjamin Briere's lawyer fears he faces a lengthy sentence [Getty-file photo]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2021

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Benjamin Briere was arrested by Iranian authorities after taking photos near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.

A French tourist who has been held in Iran for the past 10 months is facing charges of "spying and propaganda against the system", according to one of his lawyers who spoke to Reuters

Benjamin Briere, 35, was arrested for using a drone to take photos in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border.

"On Sunday, he [Briere] was charged with two counts of espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic," said his lawyer Saeid Dehghan, who fears that Briere is facing a long jail sentence

"His last defence was taken yesterday. His spying charges is because of taking pictures in forbidden areas."

"He is in the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad. His health is good and he has access to his lawyers and also he benefits from consular protection and the French embassy officials have been in regular contact with him."

Iranian authorities have accused Briere of "propaganda against the system", charges that stem from a social media post in which he said "the hijab is mandatory" in the Islamic Republic of Iran but not in other Islamic countries.

"My colleagues and I believe that these charges are false and baseless, but we have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and announce his verdict," said his lawyer.

Iran's judiciary has not commented on Briere's charges and the French foreign ministry is said to be monitoring the situation. 

The announcement of the charges come at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the West. 

The US and European powers, including France, are attempting to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which former president Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018. 

Read more: Why 2021 could be an even worse year for the Middle East

Iran is insisting that US sanctions imposed since 2018 are lifted before any renegotiation can happen. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker who was jailed by Iran in 2016, was in court on Sunday facing charges of propaganda against the regime.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe told AFP that he expected her to receive "the maximum sentence" when the ruling is handed down in seven working days, adding that he believed his wife was being held as a "political bargaining chip".

Iran has denied repeated accusations that it is holding dual nationals and foreigners as a way of winning concessions from other countries. 

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