Iran on Friday, May 12, released two French citizens jailed in separate cases and they are both now returning to France, the French foreign minister said. Bernard Phelan, who also holds Irish nationality, and Benjamin Briere were freed from their prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad and are “on their way to France”, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.
The pair were among some two dozen foreigners jailed in Iran who campaigners see as hostages held in a deliberate strategy by Tehran to extract concessions from the West. The Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin also confirmed the release in a tweet: “Pleased to confirm that Bernard Phelan has been released from prison in Iran and is now on his way home. This is a great relief to his family. I am deeply appreciative of the hard work done in the background by our team working with our French colleagues.”
Health deteriorated in prison
Phelan, 64, a Paris-based travel consultant, was arrested in October in Mashhad and has been held ever since. In April, he was jailed for six and a half years on national security charges strongly rejected by his family.
Phelan’s family had said his health deteriorated considerably in detention. Phelan went on a dry hunger strike in January to protest his detention but stopped the action at the request of his family, who feared he would die.
Briere, 37, was first detained while traveling in Iran in May 2020 and later sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage. He was then acquitted by an appeals court but remained in prison in a situation deemed “incomprehensible” by his family. Held like Phelan in the prison of Vakilabad in Mashhad, Briere also went on hunger strikes to protest his conditions.
Four more French citizens, described previously as “hostages” by the French foreign ministry, are still being held in prison by Iran. Colonna said she had spoken earlier on Friday to her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian and made clear “France’s determination to ensure that the other French citizens still detained in Iran also rapidly regain their full freedom.”
The Iranian foreign ministry also said the two had spoken by telephone about the release of Briere and Phelan, which it described as a “humanitarian action”.