TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian appeals court upheld the eight-year prison sentence of a French tourist for taking photos in a prohibited area and asking questions about Iran’s obligatory Islamic hijab for women, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced in January. He went on a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest his treatment in prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where he is being detained.
His Iranian lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, said on Twitter that “The sentence of eight years and eight months in prison for Benjamin Briere, French tourist was finalized.”
Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent said at the time of Briere's sentencing that an Iranian revolutionary court sentenced him to eight years for espionage and eight months for anti-government propaganda. Under Iranian law, the longer part is applied in practice.
Briere was detained for taking pictures in a desert area where photography is prohibited and asking questions on social media about Iran’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women.
Rights groups accuse hard-liners in Iran’s security agencies of using foreign detainees as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West. Tehran denies it, but there have been prisoner exchanges in the past.
Other French citizens detained in Iran include Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69, who were arrested on May 7 after meeting with protesting Iranian teachers and taking part in an anti-government rally. France identified the two as a teachers’ union official and her partner on vacation in Iran.
Also in January, Iranian justice officials ordered the re-imprisonment of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was arrested in 2019. Adelkhah for a time had been allowed to serve a five-year prison sentence under house arrest. She had been accused of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s political system” and “collusion to undermine national security.”
Briere had been charged for “cooperation with a foreign hostile nation against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dehghan said in January. On Tuesday, the Iranian court again referred to France as a “hostile nation.”
France, alongside other world powers, is in negotiations with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.