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Frenchman accused of spying goes on trial in Iran: family

By AFP - Jan 20,2022 - Last updated at Jan 20,2022

PARIS — A Frenchman held in Iran for over a year and a half on spying charges, which his family has rejected, went on trial on Thursday severely weakened by a hunger strike, his family and lawyer said.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in May 2020 while travelling in Iran. He began the hunger strike in December to protest, among other issues, the lack of any serious advance in the proceedings.

His family says he is an innocent tourist unknowingly caught up as global powers including France and the US seek to negotiate with Tehran a revival of a 2015 deal over its nuclear programme.

"We have very little information, all we know is that the hearing took place and that a verdict will be issued on Saturday," his sister Blandine Briere told AFP.

She added that an Iranian lawyer representing her brother and an interpreter were present for the hearing.

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the hearing took place in branch four of the Revolutionary Court in the eastern city of Mashhad, where Briere is being held.

His Paris-based lawyer, Philippe Valent, said in a statement Wednesday that Briere was "very weakened" by his hunger strike, and had not been allowed to learn what specific charges had been brought against him.

Valent confirmed that the hearing had taken place and said a verdict was expected from Saturday, the first day of the week in Iran.

The HRANA said Briere was still on a hunger strike.

French-Iranian academic held 

He is one of over a dozen Western citizens held in Iran, described as hostages by activists who say they are innocent of any crime and detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guards to extract concessions from the West.

Nationals of all three European powers involved in the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme -- Britain, France and Germany -- are among the foreigners being held.

But Briere is the only Western detainee known to be currently held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.

Iran is also holding the French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in June 2019 and sentenced to five years in prison in May 2020 on national security charges.

In October 2020, she was moved to house arrest but in a surprise development last week, Iran jailed her again, saying she had violated house arrest rules.

"She is in good physical condition but is not hiding her anger over her re-incarceration, which she considers unfounded," her support group said in statement late Wednesday.

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