By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, May 12 (Reuters) – Two French citizens, Bernard Phelan and Benjamin Briere, have been freed from detention in Iran, President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said in a separate statement that both men were now on their way to France, adding that she spoke to her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian, on Friday morning.
“Benjamin Briere and Bernard Phelan will be reunited with their loved ones. This is a relief,” Macron said on Twitter.
Relations between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven French nationals in what Paris has described as arbitrary arrests equivalent to state hostage-taking.
A Franco-Irish citizen, Phelan was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison in March for “providing information to another country”, despite his poor health, his family had said.
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The tourism consultant was arrested as anti-government protests spread following the death last year of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Masha Amini, while in the custody of Iran‘s morality police.
Briere had been held in the Islamic Republic since since his May 2020 arrestfor flying a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. An Iranian court sentenced him to eight years in prison on spying charges in early 2022.
Acquitted on appeal in February, Briere was nevertheless detained until his release on Friday.
At least four other French nationals are still imprisoned in Iran.
“We will continue to work towards the return of our fellow nationals who are still detained in Iran,” Macron added.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Tassilo Hummel; editing by William Maclean, Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)