Iran sentences Irish-French national to more than six years in jail

Family concerned for Bernard Phelan, 64, who is accused of espionage

French-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan has been held in Iran since October. AFP.
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Iran has jailed an Irish-French citizen for up to six and a half years his family has said, adding that his life is in danger due to health problems.

Bernard Phelan, a travel consultant in Paris who is originally from County Tipperary, Ireland, was detained in the north-eastern city of Mashhad in October.

Mr Phelan, 64, is accused of transmitting information to an enemy state, a charge he denies, his family said in a statement on Tuesday.

At an initial hearing on February 20, where he was allowed to be accompanied only by a regime-appointed lawyer, he was sentenced to three and a half years, earning a deduction for health reasons and his age.

But a second hearing on February 26 resulted in the sentence being increased to six and a half years.

"The health of Bernard is very worrying and his life is in danger," the family statement said.

Speaking to Irish media, Bernard's sister Caroline Masse also appealed to the government not to reopen the embassy in Tehran over the treatment of her brother.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, she urged the government in Dublin to "push this further".

"Bernard is ailing now and he's on death watch. Time is running out", she said.

"We would say how can we normalise any communication with Iran while they have locked up an innocent Irish citizen in one of their prisons.

"We would encourage Ireland to shelve plans for any embassy until Bernard is released."

The family also revealed that Mr Phelan's 97-year-old father, Vincent, was worried he will never see his only remaining son again.

France has demanded that local authorities provide him with urgent medical care due to a heart condition.

A representative for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said the government was extremely concerned about the case, especially given Mr Phelan’s ill health.

Iranian judicial authorities and the French foreign ministry did not immediately comment.

Mr Phelan's sentence comes days after a second French national, Benjamin Briere, who has been held since May 2020 after being sentenced to eight years, was cleared of all charges and ordered to be released from prison.

However, he has since remained in custody without a reason given for his ongoing detention.

In recent years, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on charges related to espionage and security.

Rights groups have accused Iran of trying to extract concessions from other countries through such arrests. Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage.

Updated: March 08, 2023, 10:36 PM