Sister tells of joy after Bernard Phelan released from Iranian prison

Tears as French-Iranian freed after seven months in jail for 'inciting propaganda' during protests

Bernard Phelan is being looked after in a French hospital. Picture: Phelan family
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The sister of a French-Iranian citizen released from an Iranian prison has described the joy, smiles and “huge hugs” as she greeted him as he stepped off a plane in Paris.

Bernard Phelan, who also has Irish citizenship, and another French national, Benjamin Briere, who was in custody for two years, were released on humanitarian grounds last Friday.

Caroline Phelan, Mr Phelan's sister, was at Le Bourget airport to welcome him home.

“It was an unbelievable moment. Just couldn't believe it, couldn't believe it,” she said.

“To see him walking off the plane in France after such stress and such a long time and huge hugs … We were all in tears.

“So it was an amazing moment. And then the French team were there as well. And we've all bonded over these seven months. Just to welcome him home.

“And of course then we rang my father in Dublin. So, my father, Vincent, is 97 and he thought he'd never see his son again. So it was a very special moment for him too.”

Mr Phelan, 64, a travel consultant in Paris, was held in a prison in Mashhad, north-east Iran, for seven months.

His detention for inciting propaganda came during mass anti-government protests that erupted last autumn.

He was later sentenced to six and a half years for providing information to an enemy state, a charge he denied.

Bernard Phelan, right, and Benjamin Briere pose together at Le Bourget Airport. Photo: Briere family

The Foreign Ministry in Tehran called their release a “humanitarian action”. Mr Phelan’s family has raised his health problems throughout his detention.

Ms Phelan said her brother would spend time in hospital in France recovering. She said the family was “over the moon” to have him back safe.

“He looked weak, but just still overjoyed. So I think that joy was boosting him. So he is in hospital. I saw him yesterday (Sunday).

“He can't get over the peace and quiet, the silence after being in a cell with 16 other people, having a bathroom.

“And the day before he had his bare feet in the grass because he hasn't seen grass for seven months. They had a courtyard with big high walls and they were only allowed out for 45 minutes a day. So just to put bare feet in the grass on the Saturday afternoon was heaven.”

Ms Phelan rejected claims from the Iranian authorities that her brother was cared for appropriately in prison.

“We wouldn't consider that he was well looked after,” she said.

“He did see a doctor, there was a doctor in the hospital, he was given tests in the last month. He was given a chair and a table in the last month, but he was sitting on the floor for six months.

“Maybe in Iranian standards they think that a prison like that is OK, but it is not in our standards to treat people like that. We would not agree that he was well looked after. But he's home safely and that's what counts.”

She said her brother was looking forward to a fried breakfast and a cup of tea on his return to Ireland.

Ms Phelan added: “I think he's also very conscious of the other Europeans he left behind, it's something he raised with me. He's very conscious that himself and Benjamin got home but there are a lot of other Europeans in Iran today. I don't know when they will come home, but he is very thankful to be one of the first home.

Iran has frequently been accused of taking western citizens hostage to use as political bargaining chips.

Britain settled a historic £400 million ($498 million) debt to Iran during negotiations for the release of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France “will continue to act to return our fellow citizens who are still detained in Iran”.

Updated: May 15, 2023, 2:07 PM

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