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Family urges action over French-Irish citizen held in Iran

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The family of a French-Irish citizen held in Iran on Thursday urged the government in Dublin to intensify talks for his release, as concerns grow for his health following a hunger strike.

Bernard Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant and one of seven French nationals held by Iran, was arrested in October while travelling through the country in the wake of recent anti-regime protests.

In a direct appeal to Ireland’s foreign minister Micheal Martin on RTE radio, Phelan’s sister Caroline Masse-Phelan called on Dublin to step up its negotiations with Tehran.

“Escalate negotiations with the Iranian authorities to get Bernard out of there. His health condition is extremely bad following his hunger and thirst strike,” she said.

“His health is extremely at risk. And we still do fear for his life. So escalate, escalate, escalate,” she said, explaining her brother suffers from a heart condition and chronic bone illness.

Phelan, 64, is being held in Mashhad in the Islamic Republic’s northeast on a number of charges including disseminating propaganda critical of Iran’s clerical leadership.

He has denied all the charges against him.

At the start of the year, the dual national began a hunger strike and had refused water for the past three.

But Caroline Masse-Phelan explained the family had managed to pass a message to her brother through diplomatic channels on Wednesday getting him to end the hunger strike.

Previously requests for direct communication with the family had been turned down by Iranian authorities.

She said they urged him “to stop, to eat, to drink and that it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth losing his life in this situation”.

Speaking to AFP on Wednesday Caroline Masse-Phelan said under the “dry” hunger strike her brother would survive no more than a few days.

A diplomatic source said Iranian authorities had so far refused to release Phelan on medical grounds despite repeated requests from French and Irish authorities.

Phelan is one of two dozen foreigners currently held in Iran, according to activists, who describe the detainees as “hostages” seized to extract concessions from the West.

Fellow French national Benjamin Briere, who was sentenced last year to eight years in prison on spying charges, is being held in the same jail.

Caroline Masse-Phelan said her brother was “an innocent pawn in a bigger political game”, explaining he had “worked in tourism and for all his life and was promoting Iran as a destination”.

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