ISTANBUL (Aftenposten): A number of foreigners are imprisoned in Iran. One group in particular is particularly vulnerable.
In 2018, Benjamin Briere set out on his dream journey. The then 34-year-old Frenchman got into the motorhome and drove from Scandinavia.
After driving through the Balkans and Central Asia, Briere reached Iran in May 2020. In a nature reserve near the border with Turkmenistan, he sent up a drone.
He just wanted to take pictures of the beautiful nature, his family claims.
But the Iranian authorities do not believe that. They suspect he was spying for France.
Briere was arrested and has since been in custody. This week, his case was heard in an Iranian court.
The sentence was eight years in prison.
Changed the indictment
Briere’s lawyers are shocked.
The judge in the case changed the indictment at the last minute, they claim.
Initially, Briere was accused of espionage. But just before the trial was over, the lawyers discovered that the indictment had been changed.
Now, instead, Briere was accused of collaborating with an enemy of the Iranian state, that is, France. Such a sentence has a much longer sentence.
– Briere was about to receive a three-year sentence. But his value clearly went up during the nuclear talks, says Hadi Ghaemi. He is the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Ser mot Vienna
In Vienna, negotiations are currently underway between Iran and several Western countries to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and imposed severe sanctions that have almost stifled the Iranian economy.
Briere’s lawyers believe Iran is using him as a means of pressure in the negotiations.
– The way this case has been handled, makes it clear that Briere is a hostage. His fate is linked to how much Iran can push out of France in the nuclear talks, Ghaemi says in a statement.
At least a dozen Western nationals are currently imprisoned in Iran without trial, according to human rights groups.
Briere is right enough that only known case where a Western citizen without an Iranian passport has been imprisoned.
Those who have Iranian and a Western passport are in particular at risk of being imprisoned in Iran.
Human Rights Watch har investigated 14 cases since 2014 where persons with dual citizenship have been imprisoned without trial.
The group is aware that these prisons are politically motivated.
The impression is reinforced by the fact that Tehran has previously been willing to release Western citizens in exchange for Iranian prisoners being allowed to return home.
HRW: Cynical practice
One of those involved is the French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah.
She too was arrested in May 2020, accused of espionage. She was arrested again on January 12 this year, after 15 months in house arrest.
Her colleague, Frenchman Roland Marchal, was arrested at the same time as her. But he stayed after a short time released in exchange against an Iranian engineer whom France planned to extradite to the United States.
“The re-arrest of Fariba Adelkah shows how cynical and cruel this practice is,” he said. skriver Human Rights Watch in a statement.
The verdict against Briere will be appealed, his lawyers say.
Meanwhile, Briere has gone on hunger strike. His family is despairing that he is getting weaker and weaker.
– He was just a tourist. Nothing can justify that he has spent so much time in prison without reason or contact with the family, says sister Blandine Briere to France 24.
Outside the premises where the nuclear talks are being held in Vienna, another man is on hunger strike in solidarity with the imprisoned foreigners.
Barry Rosen was the US press envoy to Tehran when several hundred students stormed the US embassy in 1979. Rosen was held hostage for 444 days.
“I am here to ask the Americans and Europeans to demand that the release of the hostages must be a requirement for renewing the nuclear agreement with Iran,” Rosen told the newspaper. The Guardian.
– This has been going on for 40 years, and people are thrown in jail without proof. There must be an agreement to end this.