Frenchman loses appeal of 8 years in Iranian prison

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TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian appeals court has upheld the eight-year prison term of a French tourist for taking photos in a restricted area and asking questions about the mandatory Islamic hijab for women in Iran, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in May 2020 and convicted in January. He went on a hunger strike on December 25 to protest his treatment in the prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where he is being held.

His Iranian lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, said on Twitter that “the sentence of eight years and eight months in prison for Benjamin Briere, the French tourist, was final.”

Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent said at the time of Briere’s conviction that an Iranian revolutionary court had sentenced him to eight years for espionage and eight months for anti-government propaganda. Under Iranian law, the longer part is used in practice.

Briere was detained for taking photos in a desert area where photography is prohibited and asking questions on social media about the mandatory Islamic headscarf for women in Iran.

Rights groups accuse hardliners in Iran’s security services of using foreign detainees as a bargaining chip for money or influence in negotiations with the West. Tehran denies it, but there have been prisoner exchanges in the past.

Other French citizens detained in Iran include Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69, who were arrested on May 7 after meeting protesting Iranian teachers and participating in an anti-government demonstration. France identified the two as a teacher union official and her partner on vacation in Iran.

Also in January, Iranian judicial officials ordered the re-incarceration of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was arrested in 2019. Adelkhah had been sentenced to five years under house arrest for a period of time. She was charged with “propaganda against the political system of the Islamic Republic” and “conspiracy to undermine national security”.

Briere had been charged with “cooperation with a foreign hostile nation against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dehghan said in January. On Tuesday, the Iranian court again called France an “enemy nation”.

France, along with other world powers, is negotiating with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

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