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Iran jails French national for 8 years over alleged spying

January 25, 2022

An Iranian court has convicted French national Benjamin Briere of spying and sentenced him to 8 years in prison. Briere was arrested after flying a remote controlled minihelicopter in the desert in 2020.

French national Benjamin Briere
Briere was arrested in 2020 and accused of spying and propaganda against Iran's Islamic systemImage: Iranhumanrights

A court in Iran on Tuesday jailed French national Benjamin Briere for eight years after it found him guilty of espionage.

Lawyers for the 36-year-old say the process was flawed and the charges were politically motivated.

Why was Briere put on trial?

Briere, a tourist who had been traveling around Iran, was arrested in May 2020 after flying a helicam — a remote minihelicopter that can capture motion images or snapshots — in the desert near Iran's border with Turkmenistan.

In addition to his sentence on spying charges, he was also sentenced to eight months in prison for "propaganda" against Iran's Islamic system.

Briere's Paris-based lawyer, Philippe Valent, denounced the trial as a "masquerade."

"This verdict is the result of a purely political process that is ... devoid of any basis," Valent said. The lawyer added that Briere "did not have a fair trial in front of impartial judges," noting that he had not been allowed to see the indictment against him in full.

One of his Iranian lawyers, Saeid Denghan, told Reuters news agency that Briere is "shocked" by the sentence and that he intends to appeal the verdict within 20 days.

Briere is among more than a dozen Western citizens held In Iran. Activists, who describe them as hostages, claim they are detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guards to extract concessions from the West.

Background of nuclear talks

The trial comes as the United States and parties to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal seek to revive the pact after US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the agreement in 2018.

Among those being held are nationals from all three European powers involved in the talks on Tehran's nuclear program: Britain, France and Germany.

Iran: Low expectations on nuclear talks

They include a British-Iranian worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran on strongly contested spying charges.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family links her imprisonment to a $530 million (€470 million) debt dispute between Tehran and London over a shipment of Chieftain tanks that was never delivered.

rc/wd (AFP, Reuters)