By John Irish
PARIS, Jan 26 (Reuters) – France’s foreign ministry demanded on Thursday the immediate release of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish citizen detained in Iran, whose health situation has worsened with Paris saying he has been denied urgent medical care.
Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven of its nationals in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests that are equivalent to state hostage taking.
Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant was detained in early October as anti-government protests spread across the country. Diplomats said he had recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile.
“We are extremely concerned given the extreme fragility of his health situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre told reporters at a news conference, demanding that he be released immediately along with six other French detainees.
“The denial of medical access at this point from the Iranian authorities is completely unacceptable,” she said, adding Paris held Tehran responsible for the health of all its citizens.
The family of Louis Arnaud, a 35-year-old French national, who had been in Iran on tourism, on Thursday made public that their son had been arrested on Sept. 28 and was being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
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.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Wednesday spoke to her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian demanding the release of all the prisoners.
Some 40 Europeans are held in Iran. Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Colonna said she wanted a collective European response to deal with the matter.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)