In what appears to be the latest illustration of Iran’s combative approach to foreign policy, prosecutors have filed charges of “espionage and propaganda against the Islamic Republic” against a French tourist.
Benjamin Briere, who has been detained illegally since his arrest by Iranian authorities 10 months ago, is reportedly in good health and has access to French consular authorities.
According to his lawyer, Saeid Dehghan, Briere’s espionage charge is for taking pictures of forbidden areas and his propaganda charge is the result of a tweet in which he questioned why the hijab is “mandatory” in Iran but “optional” in other Islamic countries.
Briere was originally arrested for flying a helicam near the Turkmenistan-Iran border and faces a long-term jail sentence should he be found guilty.
Talking to Reuters, Dehghan called the charges false and baseless, stating that:
“we have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and announce his verdict.”
The arrest, detention, and imminent prosecution of Briere is the most recent example of the Iranian regime’s use of hostage diplomacy – the practice of arbitrarily detaining dual and foreign nationals as a means of achieving foreign policy objectives.
This approach has become a staple of Iranian overseas diplomacy. Giving the regime substantial leverage, it has allowed them to obtain billions of dollars; receiving a $400 million payment from the US in 2015 that coincided with the release of 5 hostages. The permanent release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is also thought to be dependent on the payment of a £400 million debt owed by the British government for an unfulfilled arms deal.
Despite the Iranian Supreme Court ruling that the phrase “hostile state” does not refer to political differences, many of those detained are tried under article 508 of the Islamic penal code which states that:
“any person or group who cooperates with hostile states in any shape or form will be sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison.”
In recent years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have detained dozens of dual nationals, with tensions between Iran and the West worsening substantially following Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA and reinstitution of crippling sanctions. Though there are no exact figures on the number of hostages taken by the regime, at least 30 dual nationals are known to have been unlawfully imprisoned since 2015.
IOHR calls for Iranian authorities to release Benjamin Briere and other arbitrarily detained dual and foreign nationals. The use of innocent people as bargaining chips to advance the regime’s foreign policy interests is unacceptable.
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