French tourist Benjamin Brière has appeared in court in Iran to defend himself against charges of "espionage" and "propaganda against the regime”.
The 35-year-old was arrested 10 months ago and has been held in Vakilabad Prison ever since. He had driven his van via a scenic land route from France to Iran and documented parts of the journey on social media.
According to his lawyer, Saeid Dehghan, Brière is being prosecuted for espionage for photographing “no-go areas”.
Dehghan added on Twitter that the French national has been accused of “propaganda against the regime” because he asked on his personal social media account why hijab is mandatory in the Islamic Republic, but is optional in other Islamic countries.
He is understood to have been arrested in May 2020 in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. Dehghan added that his client, who appeared in court on Sunday, March 14, was “in good health” and had access to lawyers and French consular protection.
News of the young man’s arrest first surfaced in late February. The French weekly newspaper Le Point reported that Brière had been detained for several months in the village of Kouchan, before being transferred to the prison in Mashhad, and lawyers had not been given access to the case files.
Brière was said to have travelled to Iran on a tourist visa. His lawyer denied reports that his client had been arrested for attempting to fly a drone in the desert, saying that he only was operating a helicam, or a remote-controlled mini helicopter outfitted with a camera, that he added was commonplace among youth in Iran.
A relative of Brière told the newspaper: “He had been on vacation in Iran for several months and remains illegally detained, since the authorities have not provided the slightest documentation or explanation for his detention."
The French Foreign Ministry said its officials were “closely monitoring” the situation and in regular contact with Brière. Lawyer Saeid Dehghan has also called the allegations "false and baseless", and added: "We have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and issue the verdict."
Scores of foreign and dual nationals have been held in the Islamic Republic on patently false “espionage” charges in recent years. In June 2019 a British-Australian couple, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, were arrested and held in Iran for several months after flying a drone in Iran to take pictures for their travel blog.
Also on Sunday, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker being held hostage by Iran over a historic debt, attended Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran to defend herself against fresh charges of "propaganda activities against the regime". She has been unjustly detained in the country for half a decade.