Health of Irishman held in Iran prison ‘declining rapidly’, says sister after first phone call

Bernard Phelan not among those to benefit from pardon issued on Sunday by Iran’s supreme leader, she confirms

An Irish man held in an Iranian prison since October will not benefit from an amnesty for prisoners declared by the country’s supreme leader on Sunday, his sister has said.

Caroline Massé-Phelan, sister of Bernard Phelan, said he is not among those to benefit from the amnesty, but expressed relief after she managed to speak to him for first time in more than three months.

“It was good to talk to him,” she said. “His health is declining rapidly and he is desperate to get out, but he is good. He is a fighter and his voice was good.

“He is being kept in really tough conditions, still in a freezing cold cell, and there is a gas shortage now so they are only able to cook food at lunchtime – but it was good to be able to speak with him.”


She said Taoiseach Micheál Martin had spoken about Mr Phelan last week with the Iranian foreign minister, who said he would try to get his conditions improved. She added that her phone call with her brother seems to have been part of such an improvement.

“We are always hopeful, but the length of time it is all taking is a concern – it’s in the Iranians’ hands but it is not moving forward,” she said.

She confirmed that Mr Phelan, in his 60s and originally from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, would not benefit from a pardon affecting “tens of thousands” of prisoners, including some arrested in recent anti-government protests. The pardon was reported by state news agency IRNA on Sunday.

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

He was arrested on October 3rd along with an Iranian colleague, and initially accused by police of taking photos of a burnt mosque and two of police. He denies these and other accusations since made against him. No formal legal proceedings have yet been preferred against him.

The reported releases come after a deadly state crackdown helped to quell the nationwide unrest in Iran.

However, the pardons approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came with conditions, according to details announced in state media reports, which said they would not apply to any of the numerous dual-nationals held in Iran.

IRNA said pardons would not apply to those charged with “spying for foreign agencies” or those “affiliated with groups hostile to the Islamic Republic”.

Those accused of “corruption on earth” – a capital charge brought against some protesters, four of whom have been executed – would also not be pardoned, state media reported.

Iran was swept by protests following the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman while in the custody of the country’s morality police last September.

Iranians from all walks of life took part in the unrest, marking one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.

According to the HRANA activist news agency, about 20,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, which the authorities accused Iran's foreign enemies of fomenting.

Rights groups say more than 500 people have been killed in the crackdown, including 70 minors. At least four people have been hanged in response, according to the Iranian judiciary.

Asked about Mr Phelan’s case on Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it did not comment on the details of any specific case.

However, it said it “remains very concerned” about the issue and would continue to provide consular assistance, in close co-ordination with France.

“The case has been raised repeatedly and directly with the Iranian authorities, including directly by the Tánaiste, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin TD. In his call with the Iranian foreign minister on January 30th, the Tánaiste highlighted the health condition of Mr Phelan and stressed the need for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds,” it said. – additional reporting Reuters

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times