Bernard Phelan, a French Irish tour operator who has been detained in Iran for the past three months, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his sister said Wednesday.
Phelan’s family spoke with The Irish Times about the diplomatic dispute he is involved in.
According to the Times, Phelan, 64, was arrested by Iranian police on Oct. 3. He is being held in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, in northeast Iran, and is sharing a cell with 15 other people, the Times reported.
Iran has leveled multiple charges against Phelan, including spreading propaganda against Iran and taking photos of police officers, all of which he denies.
Irish security sources believe he was detained on trumped-up charges in order to send a message to the French government: “Stay out of our business,” the paper reported.
Phelan lives in France and had arrived in Iran with a French passport.
In September, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, died while in police custody. She had been detained by the country’s morality police for violating the dress code. Her death sparked continuing protests in Iran and around the globe.
Tehran has accused France, among other Western nations, of attempting to stir up the protests, while the French government has said its nationals – at least seven — are being held as state hostages.
Irish and French diplomats have been working behind the scenes to secure Phelan’s release, the Times reported.
Phelan was traveling through the city of Mashhad on Oct. 3 as part of a research trip, when he was arrested for allegedly taking photographs of police officers and a mosque that had been burned, The Irish Times reported.
The paper reported that Phelan was held in solitary confinement for two weeks before being transferred to Vakilabad prison.
After a month in custody, officials charged Phelan with engaging in propaganda against the Iranian regime and with sending photographs to the Guardian newspaper, the Times reported.
“It’s a political issue,” Caroline Massé-Phelan, Bernard Phelan’s sister, told the Times. “On the Irish side, there is no reason for him to be held because the Iranians have a fairly good relationship with Ireland. He should be released.”
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told the Times the department “is aware of the case and has been providing consular assistance, in close coordination with France.
The French and Iranian embassies in Dublin did not respond to requests for comment.
His family told the newspaper they have only had two phone calls from Phelan in the 84 days he has been detained.
“Bernard was supposed to be with me for my 97th birthday in November and also with me for Christmas,” Vincent Phelan, Bernard’s father, said Tuesday. “I fear that I will never see him again.”