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Iran Confirms French Citizen Charged With Spying, Propaganda


French citizen Benjamin Briere was arrested in Iran last year. (file photo)

The lawyer for a French tourist detained in Iran a year ago says Iranian prosecutors have confirmed that his client will be tried on charges of espionage and "propaganda against the system."

The 35-year-old French citizen, Benjamin Briere, was arrested in Iran in May 2020 -- allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area near the Iran-Turkmenistan border.

He could face the death penalty in Iran if convicted of espionage. A conviction for spreading "propaganda against the system" could result in a prison sentence ranging from three months to a year.

Briere's lawyer, Said Dehghan, said on May 30 that Iranian authorities told him their investigation had been completed and that prosecutors had confirmed the charges.

"The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the [Islamic] Revolutionary Court for the continuation of the judicial process," Dehghan said.

The lawyer said the charge of "propaganda against the system" was the result of a social media post by Briere in which he allegedly pointed out that while "the hijab is mandatory" in Iran, it is not in other Islamic countries.

Briere is being held in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. He had also been facing charges of "corruption on Earth," one of the most serious offenses under Iranian law, and drinking alcohol -- which is punishable by flogging.

But Dehghan said those charges were dismissed after the investigation.

Confirmation of the charges against him comes days after the French weekly Le Point published an open letter by Briere's sister, Blandine Briere, in which she called upon French President Emmanuel Macron to push for her brother's release.

She said the charges were "baseless" and that Briere had become a "negotiating tool" amid tensions between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear capacity.

France is part of a group of countries - along with the United States, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany - that say they are trying to restore a nuclear deal struck with Iran in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Arrests of foreigners in Iran -- especially dual nationals, who are often accused of espionage -- have multiplied since Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement and reimposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. But suspicions remain in other countries, including France, that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and BBC
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