The French Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that a French citizen was arrested in Iran in May 2020 and that the authorities “closely monitor the situation of our citizen”.
The ministry added that the French citizen was under consular protection and that the embassy in Tehran was in regular contact with him.
A lawyer for the man, Saeid Dehghan, told the Associated Press that he had met his client three times, most recently less than a month ago, adding that he was in good health and in a good mood, especially after talking on the phone with his family. .
“His name is Benjamin and he is being held in Vakilabad Prison in the city of Mashhad. He was arrested nine months ago and faces contradictory and unfounded charges, said Dehghan, who declined to give the man’s full name.
Dehghan said his client was a French citizen in his thirties on a tourist visit to Iran and denied reports that he had dual nationality. He said the charges against him were a mixture of security and other charges but refused to give more details.
The arrest comes at a sensitive time, with the United States and European parties in Iran’s nuclear deal in 2015 seeking to restore the pact abandoned in 2018 by then-US President Donald Trump.
A person close to Benjamin’s family told Reuters he was arrested after flying a drone in the desert near the border between Turkmenistan and Iran.
But Dehgan denied the allegations, saying that Benjamin had only one remote-controlled helicopter that “many young people have in Iran as well.”
French officials and his family had so far tried to keep the information about his detention secret and feared that regional tensions could damage the negotiations for his release.
The family friend said that Benjamin, who works in the event industry, had traveled to Iran by van from France.
Dozens of dual citizens have been arrested in recent years
Iran’s elite revolutionary guards have arrested dozens of dual citizens and foreigners in recent years, mostly on spy charges, including French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who Tehran sentenced to six years in prison in May 2020 for security-related charges.
But her partner, French academic Roland Marchal, who was imprisoned with her, was released last year. Marchal was released after France released Iranian engineer Jalal Ruhollahnejad, jailed for alleged violations of US sanctions on Tehran.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual citizens for trying to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies detaining people for political reasons and has accused many of the foreigners in their prisons of espionage.
Adelkhah was released on furlough in October last year. Dehghan, who is also Adelkhah’s lawyer, said she had been under house arrest ever since. “Of course, Adelkhah has an ankle monitor that limits her movements to 300 meters (985 feet) from home,” said Dehghan.
In a speech to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for the release of Adelkhah. Tehran, which does not recognize dual nationality, has rejected France’s calls for the liberation of Adelkhah.
The United States has recently announced that it is ready to talk to Iran and global powers, including France, about how both nations can return to the 2015 agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
( Jowharwith AFP, AP and REUTERS)