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Source: BBC News

Mar 31, 2023

At a glance

  • The sister of an Irish man being detained in an Iranian prison has said she hopes new health tests will see him released on humanitarian grounds

  • Bernard Phelan, who is 64, has been detained since October

  • His family says he has serious health issues, including hypertensive heart disease and chronic bone and eyesight issues

  • His sister Caroline said their wish is to get Mr Phelan home so he can recover

BY Niall Glynn

The sister of an Irish man who has been held in an Iranian prison since October has said she is hopeful he will be released on humanitarian grounds.

Bernard Phelan, 64, has been accused of "providing information to an enemy country" by Iranian authorities, which he and his family deny.

Last month, a judge in Iran sentenced him to three-and-a-half years, but said he would be pardoned on humanitarian grounds.

However, a week later, his family said, he was back in court and his sentence was increased to six-and-a-half years and he was told he would not be pardoned.

Mr Phelan has hypertensive heart disease and chronic bone and eyesight issues.

He had previously gone on a food and water strike in protest at his arrest sparking international concern for his case.

His sister Caroline Massé-Phelan said that her brother is going blind and that earlier this week the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran brought doctors to the prison to carry out tests on him.

"They’ve also asked for further testing at an outside hospital in Mashhad, which Bernard has agreed to," Ms Massé-Phelan said.

"If he passes the test that he is really sick he could potentially be pardoned based on humanitarian circumstances.

"We’re very hopeful on that, we’re really counting on that, we’re counting on them really realising the state of Bernard’s health and realising he shouldn’t be where he is and that he should be released on humanitarian grounds."

Mr Phelan is originally from Clonmel, County Tipperary, but grew up in Blackrock, County Dublin.

The Paris-based travel consultant, who was travelling on a French passport, had been visiting Iran since 2017, promoting it as a tourist destination.

Mr Phelan was arrested on 3 October in the north-eastern city of Mashhad during a wave of anti-government protests that have seen millions take to the streets.

He was detained for allegedly taking photographs of police officers and a mosque that had been burned.

Caroline Massé-Phelan said the family is worried they “won't get him back in time healthwise” and don’t want him to come out of prison “feet first”.

She said Mr Phelan is due to meet with the Irish consul in Iran next week for the first time in the six months since he was detained.

Ms Massé-Phelan said she was in constant contact with the Irish government and trusted them "to be doing what they should do".

"However, they just need to keep going and maybe potentially go over there," she said.

"I know their consular person is over there already, but he’s on his own, so maybe a ministerial contingent from Ireland could potentially go over and really confirm their support for Bernard.

"So that’s what I would want, that they continue to exert pressure on the Iranian authorities for Bernard’s safe trip home."

In a statement, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The government is extremely concerned about the continued detention of Bernard Phelan, especially given his ill health.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs is in ongoing contact with the Iranian authorities on the case, and this remains the focus of our discussions.

"The department is providing consular assistance to Mr Phelan and as with all consular cases does not comment on the details of specific cases.”

On Thursday about 100 people gathered outside the Iranian Embassy in Dublin to hand a letter to authorities calling for Mr Phelan’s immediate release.

Speaking afterwards to Irish broadcaster RTE, Mr Phelan's 97-year-old father Vincent said he was desperate to see his son again.

"I'm very worried about him because my life is still very short. I'm 97 and I'd like to see Bernard and have him with me before I pass away," he said.

"I miss him terribly, sometimes I cry at night when I think of Bernard."

Caroline Massé-Phelan said the family is "grasping onto the little winds or hopes that we will get him home".

"That would be our wonderful wish that he would come home and we can put this behind us and he can get on within his life and recover," she said.

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