Irishman now on ‘thirst strike’ in Iranian jail as fears for welfare grow

Bernard Phelan (64), who holds dual French and Irish citizenship, was jailed in October during protests against the Iranian regime

Fears are growing for an Irish man in an Iranian jail who has escalated his hunger strike and is now refusing fluids.

Bernard Phelan (64), originally from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, but who grew up in Blackrock, Co Dublin, was jailed during the protests against the Iranian Islamic regime which has brought millions of people out on the street in the country.

Mr Phelan, who is a travel consultant and had been living in France, was travelling on a French passport at the time. He was arrested on October 3rd along with an Iranian colleague but no charges were brought against him and he has had no legal representation.

He is being incarcerated in the notorious Vakil-Abab Prison in Mashhad, northeast Iran. He is being held in a cell containing 16 prisoners with no glass in the windows and where temperatures drop to as low as minus 5 degrees at night.


Some of his fellow prisoners who shared a block with him have been executed.

He has been on hunger strike since New Year’s Day protesting over his incarceration but, according to diplomatic sources, he began a thirst strike on Tuesday morning too.

The French ambassador to Iran Nicolas Roche has informed the French foreign ministry that Mr Phelan is very unwell and may not long endure a thirst strike.

Mr Phelan’s sister Caroline Massé-Phelan was informed of the development immediately. She said she feared for her brother’s life given his fragile physical and mental state at present.

She has pleaded with the Iranian authorities to release her brother immediately. “We want them to let him go. It is of no interest to anybody to keep him as a prisoner. He is very sick now. He has a heart condition, he has a bone condition.

“He has been drinking tea and drinks with sugar in them. Now he has stopped that and we are very worried. It can be fatal. He is an Irish citizen who has no beef with Iran,” she told The Irish Times.

“All he was doing was promoting Iran as a tourism destination. Both the Irish and French authorities have been working hand in hand in relation to this.”

When he went on hunger strike Mr Phelan said he understood the risks he was taking and that he and his family “shall hold the Iranian government totally responsible for any resulting negative repercussion on [his] health”.

Mr Phelan is one of seven French citizens being detained by the Iranian regime, which has been rocked by widespread anti-government protests since September.

Tehran has accused France of attempting to stir up the protests, while the French government has said its nationals are being held as state hostages.