‘He didn’t do anything wrong’: Father of Tipperary man held in Iranian prison pleads for son’s release

Irish man Bernard Phelan (64) has been detained in Iran since last October

The elderly father of Irish man Bernard Phelan, who has been held in prison in Iran since last October, will hand over a petition to the Iranian embassy in Dublin this Thursday.

The 97-year-old said his son was seriously ill and “didn’t do anything wrong” to be detained in the city of Mashhad.

Bernard Phelan (64), originally from 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. Earlier this month, his family said he had been sentenced to 6½ years in prison by the authorities there.

Mr Phelan, who works for an Iranian tour operator, lives in France and was travelling on a French passport at the time.


Caroline Massé-Phelan, Bernard Phelan’s sister, said her family intended to hold a vigil outside the embassy on Thursday, March 30th amid growing concern about his “fragile” condition.

In a YouTube video recorded by the Phelan family, Vincent Phelan said he thought about his son, Bernard, from the minute he opened his eyes every morning.

“I have lost one son and I have only one left – Bernard. For the next few years – I don’t know how long I am going to live. Who does? But I rely on Bernard to help me. He (Bernard) was hoping to get home soon. I hope the Government are putting pressure on the Iranians,” he said.

“I can’t understand why they put Bernard in to prison. Bernard didn’t do anything wrong. I miss him a lot and I’ll miss him more every day. I am relying on him to look after me.”

His family said Bernard has only had the opportunity to have one eight minute phone call with his father since he went in to prison. He has also had two phone conversations with his sister, Caroline Massé-Phelan, in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Ms Massé-Phelan spoke to Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin, on RTÉ Radio 1 about her concerns about the deteriorating health of her brother, who is a dual French Irish citizen.

Mr Phelan was working as a consultant for an Iranian tour operator when he was arrested on an educational visit to the country last October. He had travelled back and forth once a year to Iran since 2017, and was promoting the country as a tourist destination.

He was with the chief executive of an Iranian tour operator when he was stopped for taking a photograph of a mosque in Mashhad. His arrest coincided with the period of the protests against the Iranian Islamic regime, which had brought millions of people out on the streets in the country. He has strongly denied a charge of helping to incite propaganda against the Tehran government.

“When he travelled he had no idea that these protests would escalate and that his life would be in danger. He was hauled off to the street and into a van, and taken away. He is not alone at being one of these hostages being kept in Iran as some sort of pawns in a political game going on in the country. He was in the wrong place on the wrong time.”

Ms Massé-Phelan said the family feared for the physical well being of Bernard who has a heart condition, chronic bone inflammation, and is going blind.

“He is extremely fragile. His physical health is declining rapidly. He has several health issues, cardiac and bone issues. But also he is going blind because he had an operation last summer, which was fine and went well, but it hasn’t been treated so he can’t see very far any more. He is very concerned that that won’t be repairable when he comes home.”

Ms Massé-Phelan said Bernard is anxious about “would could happen to him” in prison. She stated in the facility where Bernard is being detained medical care is provided but in a very limited capacity.

“He is just very afraid. He is also extremely depressed because of the length of time he has been in there. He just doesn’t see a way out. He understands that the (Irish) Government is in close contact with the Iranians, but he doesn’t see the fruits of that.”

Ms Massé-Phelan said that Bernard also has concerns about his safety in the notorious Vakilabad prison.

“He knows we are talking to the media, but he doesn’t see any fruit to that. He regularly tells us that he doesn’t know how long he can hold on. He was on hunger strike in January. He went on a thirst strike, which put the fear of God in to us. We convinced him to eat again. He needs to be let out on humanitarian grounds.”

She said Bernard sends his family “courageous, cheery” letters. The family said they are hoping the vigil this week will lead to a breakthrough in the case.

“Bernard’s family and friends will be meeting outside the embassy on the 30th of March. We will be calling on the Iranian authorities to focus on Bernard and to understand that this person shouldn’t be in Iran and should be released.

“Bernard loved the country and was only doing his best for that country. He was trying to help business there. He loved the Iranian people. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why would they keep someone like that? ”

She confirmed her elderly father, Vincent, planned to attend the vigil for a short period of time.

“He will join us. He wants to do something to help his son. So this is a way with his family and friends to do something, and to take action. We have created a petition where we hope we will arrive by 5,000 signatures by next week and then Daddy can present it to the Iranian embassy on the 30th.”