Iran making ‘every effort’ to process Irish man detained on propaganda charges

Bernard Phelan’s family say he is being detained in inhumane conditions

Iranian authorities are making “every effort” to speed up the case of an Irish man Bernard Phelan who has been detained there for three months, the country’s embassy in Dublin has said.

Mr Phelan has been in an Iranian prison since early October on charges of inciting propaganda against the regime. His family say he is being held in dire conditions and that they are concerned for his health.

On New Year’s Day, the 64-year-old, who holds dual French and Irish citizenship, told prison guards he is going on hunger strike and refusing to take his medication in protest over his detention.

Mr Phelan from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, is currently 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, his sister Caroline Massé-Phelan said.


He denies all the charges against him. His family believe he has been detained as part of a political dispute between the French and Iranian governments relating to antigovernment protests in the country.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Ireland rejected claims he is being treated poorly. He said Mr Phelan “is treated fairly well in a prison with standard conditions and medical services”.

He has been in contact with his family and has been granted consular access, the Embassy said.

The spokesman said the judiciary in Iran is independent and there can be no interference in the judicial process by the executive branch. “Mr Phelan’s case is being dealt with in accordance to applicable laws in Iran,” he said.

The embassy spokesman said authorities in Iran “are making every possible effort to expedite the processes in Mr Phelan’s case in light of his underlying health conditions, and facilitate his release on humanitarian and consular grounds”.

In a separate message, the embassy said it is “very optimistic” that he will be released in the near future and that it is liaising closely with the Irish authorities.

Ms Massé-Phelan said she received a message through Irish consular officials on Tuesday, written by her brother, which stated: “I have been imprisoned for three months without any case against me.

“In order to obtain my release and return to my family in Europe I am on hunger strike from today.”

Mr Phelan said he understands the risks 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 currently being detained by the Iranian regime, which has been rocked by widespread antigovernment 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.

Mr Phelan’s sister said he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

He was travelling through the city of Mashhad as part of a research trip when he was arrested for allegedly taking photographs of police officers and a mosque that had been burned.

He was then held in solitary confinement for two weeks before being transferred to Vakilabad Prison.

After a month in custody, he was charged with engaging in propaganda against the Iranian regime and with sending photographs to the Guardian newspaper.

A third set of charges were later lodged, accusing Mr Phelan of stealing two pieces of 900-year-old pottery from a historic village he had visited.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times