Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste Micheál Martin has called for the release of an Irishman who has been imprisoned without trial in Iran for more than three months.
Bernard Phelan (64), originally from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was jailed during the protests against the Iranian Islamic regime which has brought millions of people out on the streets in the country.
Mr Phelan, who works for an Iranian tour operator, lives in France and was travelling on a French passport at the time.
In an hour-long conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Monday, Mr Martin called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Mr Phelan who has been held without charge in the city of Mashhad, in the northeast of the country.
Mr Martin and Mr Phelan have also corresponded via the Irish Charge d’affaires in Iran. Mr Phelan has also had access to a lawyer for the first time since he went to jail.
He called off a hunger and thirst strike last week following the intervention of his family who feared for his life. “We managed to persuade him that it wasn’t worth it,” his sister Caroline Massé-Phelan said.
“He is an Irish citizen being held hostage in Iran and there is nothing happening on the Iranian side at all.”
Mrs Massé-Phelan welcomed Mr Martin’s intervention and also attempts by the French authorities – he is a dual citizen – to have her brother released on humanitarian grounds.
Mr Phelan was arrested on October 3rd along with an Iranian colleague. He was initially accused by police of taking photos of a burnt mosque and two photos of police, which he denies.
About a month later, he was accused by the prison judiciary of “propaganda against the regime” and sending photos to the Guardian newspaper, which he also denies.
More recently he has been accused by the same judiciary of taking two small pieces of ancient pottery from a village he had visited and that the pottery was 900 years old. Again he denies all charges. No formal legal proceedings have yet been preferred against him.
Mrs Massé-Phelan said his 113 days in prison had been made worse by a gas shortage which meant he was getting only cold food, and calls for heating had only resulted in the supply of plastic sheeting for the cell windows. He had been living with a broken window in the cell in a city where winter temperatures are severe.
Mrs Phelan said her brother’s health had continued to deteriorate. He has lost 5kg in weight and his blood pressure is at a dangerous level. There is a risk of paralysis arising from his back condition.
He had an operation for cornea replacement last year and his eyesight continued to worsen, she said.