TEHRAN, IRAN - Iranian prosecutors have confirmed a French national held in the Islamic republic will be tried for espionage, his lawyer said Sunday, days after the detainee's sister appealed to France's president to intervene.
Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May 2020, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.
A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran. Briere has also been charged with "propaganda against the system," which can incur a prison sentence of three months to one year.
The French foreign ministry said the spying charges against Briere were "incomprehensible".
He had been on holiday in the Islamic Republic, the ministry said, adding it "knew of nothing that could back up" the accusations.
Lawyer Said Dehghan, who also represents another French national held in the country, told AFP the investigation had been completed and the prosecution had confirmed the charges.
"The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the revolutionary court for the continuation of the judicial process," Dehghan said.
Briere, who is being held in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, also faced accusations of "corruption on earth" — one of the most severe charges under Iranian law — and drinking alcohol, punishable by flogging, but they were dismissed after the investigation.
The announcement came days after an open letter from Briere's sister, Blandine Briere, was published by French weekly Le Point, in which she appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron to push for her brother's release.
She said the charges were baseless and that Briere had become a "negotiating tool."
In March, a French foreign ministry spokesman said Briere was benefitting from consular support and that Paris' embassy in Tehran was in regular contact with him.
Arrests of foreigners in Iran, especially dual nationals, who are often accused of espionage, have multiplied since former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.
World powers have been engaged in negotiations with Iran in Vienna since April to try and revive the deal.
The goal is to return Washington to the agreement and lift sanctions on Tehran, while also bringing Iran back into compliance with nuclear commitments it waived in response to US sanctions.
Iran's negotiators have said during the talks that Tehran is open to exchanging prisoners.
During the past two years, Iran has conducted several exchanges of foreign prisoners with countries holding Iranian nationals.