PARIS: An Iranian court has sentenced a French man to eight years in prison on spying charges, his family and Paris-based lawyer said on Tuesday, arguing that Tehran was using him as a “hostage” in talks with the West.

Benjamin Briere, 36, is the only Western detainee known to be currently held in Iran who does not also hold an Iranian passport.

He was also given an additional eight-month sentence for propaganda against Iran’s Islamic system, his lawyer Philippe Valent said in a statement.

Briere, who is being held in Vakilabad jail in the eastern city of Mashhad, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a national park with a recreational drone and is currently on hunger strike.

“This verdict is the result of a purely political process and... devoid of any basis,” Valent said.

Calling the trial, which began on Thursday, a “masquerade”, he added that Briere “did not have a fair trial in front of impartial judges” and noted he had not been allowed to access the full indictment against him.

The French foreign ministry described the verdict as “unacceptable”, saying Briere was a “tourist”.

He is one of more than a dozen Western citizens held in Iran and described as hostages by activists who say they are innocent of any crime and detained at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guards to extract concessions from the West.

The verdict against Briere comes as Iran and world powers are seeking to reach agreement at talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 deal over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Nationals of all three European powers involved in the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme — Britain, France and Germany — are among the foreigners being held.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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