Iran has been holding French national since May 2020, foreign ministry confirms

France's foreign ministry, the Quai d'Orsay, said a French national, identified only as "Benjamin", has been held by Iran since last May.
France's foreign ministry, the Quai d'Orsay, said a French national, identified only as "Benjamin", has been held by Iran since last May. AFP/File

France's foreign ministry confirmed Wednesday that a French national was detained in Iran in May 2020 and that authorities are “attentively following the situation of our fellow national”.   

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The ministry added that the French national 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 he had met with his client three times, the latest less than a month ago, adding that he is in good health and good spirits, particularly after having spoken by phone with his family.  

“His name is Benjamin and he is being held at the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad. He was detained nine months ago and he faces contradictory and baseless charges,” said Dehghan, who declined to give the man’s full name.

Dehghan said his client was a French national 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 accusations but declined to give more details.

The arrest comes at a sensitive time, with the United States and European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal  trying to restore the pact that was 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 Turkmenistan-Iran border.

But Dehgan rejected this claim, saying Benjamin only had a remote-controlled helicam that “many young people have in Iran, too”.

French officials and his family had sought until now to keep the information about his detention secret, fearing that regional tensions could harm negotiations for his release. 

The family friend said Benjamin, who works in the events industry, had travelled to Iran by van from France.

Dozens of dual nationals arrested in recent years

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges, including Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran sentenced to six years in prison in May 2020 for security-related charges.

However, her partner, French academic Roland Marchal, who was detained along with her, was released last year. Marchal was freed after France released Iranian engineer Jalal Ruhollahnejad, detained over alleged violations of US sanctions against Tehran.

Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual nationals to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies it holds people for political reasons and has accused many of the foreigners in its jails of espionage.

Adelkhah was released on furlough last October. Dehghan, who is also Adelkhah’s lawyer, said she had been under house arrest since then. “Of course, Adelkhah is wearing an ankle monitor which limits her movements to 300 metres (985 feet) from home,” Dehghan said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, called for Adelkhah’s release. Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has rejected France’s calls to release Adelkhah.

The United States has recently signalled it is ready to talk with Iran and global powers, including France, about how both nations could return to the 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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