TEHRAN, Iran

A court in Iran on Tuesday sentenced a French man to eight years in prison on spying charges, according to his lawyers.

Benjamin Briere was arrested by Iranian police in May 2020 in an area bordering Turkmenistan for secretly filming the area with a helicam – a remote-controlled mini helicopter used for aerial photography.

Briere, 36, was visiting Iran on a tourist visa at the time, according to reports.

No Iranian official has so far commented on the verdict, which has been described by Briere’s Paris-based lawyer as “politically motivated.”

“It is unacceptable that Benjamin Briere remains a hostage to negotiations on the part of a regime that persists in its desire to arbitrarily detain a French citizen and use him as a bargaining chip,” Philippe Valent said in a statement.

Briere is set to appeal the sentence, according to Saeid Dehghan, one of his Iranian lawyers, who said the ruling was “harsher than expected.”

In February last year, Dehghan told local media that Briere faced two charges of “espionage” and “propaganda against the state.”

He said the French national was accused of photographing a “restricted area.”

The sentence comes at a sensitive time when Iran and world powers, including France, are engaged in hectic negotiations in Vienna to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.

France’s stance in the talks, which have been underway since April last year, has been seen as stronger than other European parties.

In a statement on Tuesday, the French Foreign Ministry termed the verdict as “unacceptable,” saying that it was in touch with Briere.

The issue of prisoners held in Iran has been one of the sticking points in the Vienna nuclear talks, with the US special envoy for Iran linking it to the final outcome of the negotiations.

Robert Malley earlier this week said Washington was unlikely to strike a deal with Iran unless Tehran released four US prisoners.

In response, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tehran has refused any “preconditions” from the beginning, urging the Americans “not to complicate the already complicated talks.”

Many foreign nationals, as well as dual nationals, from the US, France, the UK and other Western countries are currently held in Iranian jails, facing various charges, including spying.

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