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30th March 2023, 09:10:55 UTC

The Iranian authorities must immediately release 64-year-old dual Irish-French national Bernard Phelan, who is arbitrarily detained in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan province, in northeast Iran, since his arrest by plainclothes agents on 3 October 2022 in Mashhad while he was there on a trip.

Pending his release, the Iranian authorities must immediately grant him access to adequate healthcare, including all necessary medication and treatment. The authorities must also ensure that he is provided with regular phone calls to his family, access to a lawyer of his own choosing, and unhindered regular consular assistance from the Irish and French. He must also be provided with translations, including of key case documents, so that he is able to fully understand his rights.

On 8 March 2023, Bernard Phelan’s family revealed that on 26 February 2023 he was sentenced to six and-a-half years in prison in relation to “providing information to an enemy country”. This followed a 20 February 2023 court hearing where he was sentenced to three and-a-half years in prison. No information was provided as to why his prison sentence was increased. His family members have said authorities accused Bernard Phelan of vaguely worded national security-related offences like “spreading propaganda against the system” in connection to taking photographs and sharing them with journalists abroad and removing pieces of pottery, all of which he denied. His relatives also stated he has been denied access to a lawyer of his own choosing since arrest.

In media interviews, Bernard Phelan’s family raised concerns related to his health, poor conditions of detention, and violations of his fair trial rights. His family specifically expressed alarm about his deteriorating mental and physical health, including in relation to pre-existing health conditions for which he requires medication and ongoing healthcare. They further noted that he reported being held in solitary confinement for two weeks while subjected to intense interrogations after which he required hospital care. Authorities then transferred him from hospital to an overcrowded room in Vakilabad prison, which lacks adequate heating in the winter months. From 1 to mid-January 2023, Bernard Phelan went on hunger strike in protest at his continued detention.

Bernard Phelan’s detention is arbitrary due to the gravity of violations of his fair trial rights, including his right to access an independent lawyer of his own choosing, to adequate defence and to meaningfully challenge the legality of his detention before an independent and impartial court.

Bernard Phelan’s arrest took place amidst an unprecedented popular uprising in Iran against the Islamic Republic system since mid-September 2022 and with the Iranian authorities espousing an official narrative blaming foreign governments and counterrevolutionary groups from both inside and outside Iran for fomenting the nationwide protests. The Iranian authorities have responded to the nationwide protests by unlawfully killing hundreds of men, women and children, injuring thousands, and subjecting thousands more people to arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, unjust prosecutions and unfair trials resulting in prison and death sentences.

The Iranian authorities also have long history of using arbitrarily detained dual and foreign nationals as leverage, as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In light of ongoing concerns regarding the Iranian authorities’ practice of using detained dual and foreign nationals as leverage, Amnesty International again urges all states whose nationals are or have been detained at any point in Iran to promptly examine whether the deprivation of liberty amounts to an act of hostage-taking, and if so, take all appropriate measures to ensure accountability.