A Frenchman held in Iran for over a year is an innocent tourist caught in a trap that has nothing to do with him, his sister said on Monday, after it emerged he faces trial on charges of espionage.
Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May last year, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.
His Iranian lawyer said Sunday prosecutors have confirmed that he will be tried for espionage as well as "propaganda against the system". A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.
"We are completely in shock. Now we see such serious accusations emerge against him, it takes on a proportion that we cannot control and it is terrifying," Briere's sister Blandine Briere told AFP.
"We believe the game is somewhere else but what it is about it completely beyond us. He has been caught in a trap.
"Benjamin is not a spy, he is an ordinary French citizen, a tourist who found himself caught in an unreal case."
Over a dozen Western nationals are being held in Iran in what activists denounce as a strategy of hostage-taking aimed at extracting concessions from the West.
Iran insists that all are subject to a fair legal process by an independent judiciary. But it has always expressed readiness for swaps for Iranians held in the West.
Most of those held in Iran are dual nationals also holding Iranian passports. Briere is the only detainee currently held in Iran whose detention has been publicly confirmed to hold only a foreign passport.
The French foreign ministry said on Sunday the spying charges against Briere, who is being held in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, were "incomprehensible".
His family insist he is no more than an passionate traveller who set out in 2018 on a long-term road trip in his camper van that began in Scandinavia before heading overland towards Iran
- 'Not moving' -
Blandine Briere said she had managed to talk four times over the last year with her brother, the last such discussion on May 23.
"He is doing as well as could be expected," she said.
"They are 13 people in a dormitory, without any privacy. He is learning Persian and works on leather crafts, so he does not give up even if he understands what a mess this is," she said.
"He has been through several interrogations but was not mistreated, that's what he tells us," she added.
He is allowed consular visits and last week Blandine Briere wrote to President Emmanuel Macron asking him to resolve the issue.
"We are angry, we have no visibility. We carefully kept silent for months -- as we had been asked -- but it is no longer possible, as we are not moving forwards," she added.
Iran is also holding French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah who was detained in June 2019 and in May 2020 sentenced to five years in prison on national security charges. In October, she was moved to house arrest.
Fellow French academic Roland Marchal, who was detained with her, was released in March 2020 in an apparent prisoner swap.
Marchal was freed after France released Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who faced extradition to the United States over accusations he violated US sanctions against Iran.