Iran will put a French citizen that it detained last year on trial on charges including espionage, his lawyer said Sunday, a crime that can carry the death penalty.
The French citizen, Benjamin Brière, who is in his mid-30s, was arrested in Iran in May 2020 on suspicion of flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area. Saeid Dehghan, a human rights lawyer who represents him, said on Twitter Sunday that Iranian prosecutors had confirmed his client would be tried on two counts of espionage and “propaganda against the system.”
“The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the revolutionary court,” Dehghan told the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
In the years since former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with the country and reimposed sanctions, Iran has detained several foreigners and dual citizens.
Iran frequently uses such cases as diplomatic bargaining chips or to press for the release of Iranian prisoners abroad. In March last year, the French government secured the release of an academic who had been held on national security charges, Roland Marchal, as part of a prisoner swap.
Brière’s lawyer said in March that his client was facing a propaganda charge because he asked in a social media post why headscarves were required for women in Iran but optional in some other predominantly Muslim countries.
A conviction for propaganda can carry a jail term of three months to one year. Espionage can be punishable by death in Iran; Dehghan, the lawyer, told the BBC in March that Brière was at risk of a long prison sentence if convicted.
His sister, Blandine Brière, described the charges against her brother as groundless and said he was just a French tourist in Iran.
To mark the anniversary of Brière’s detention on May 26, the French weekly Le Point published an open letter from Blandine Brière to President Emmanuel Macron of France, making a desperate appeal for his help.
“Mr. President, it’s after a long year of waiting, of worrying and of incomprehension that I write to you, to call on you to help free Benjamin who is today cut off from his own life, from those who love him, and from the rest of the world,” Blandine Brière wrote on Facebook, echoing the letter.
“One year that Benjamin, and we, his loved ones, have gone through hell,” Blandine Brière said, describing the Iranian authorities as deliberately obfuscating the case. “We are powerless, facing a scenario as unreal as it is incomprehensible,” she added.
The French Foreign Ministry said in March that Benjamin Brière, who is being held in the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, was entitled to consular protection and that its embassy in Tehran was in “regular contact” with him.