Family of Irishman held in Iran plead for him to be released as part of Ramadan clemency

IRELAND, France and the EU are urging Iran to release a Tipperary-born tourism executive from prison as part of the traditional clemency orders to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

ernard Phelan (64) has been in “a hell-hole” Iranian prison for seven months since his family insisted he was wrongly accused of espionage.

Mr Phelan, a tourism operator who holds dual Irish-French citizenship, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and his family warned he was simply in “the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Concern for his welfare has mounted because he suffers from a number of medical conditions.

Ramadan ends on April 21 – and a number of inmates are traditionally given early release from prison by the authorities in many Muslim countries to mark the event.

Irish, French and EU officials are now urging the Iranians to release Mr Phelan.

Dublin MEP Francis Fitzgerlad said the ongoing detention of Mr Phelan was “outrageous”.

“He has been literally picked up from the streets, put into jail, (with) no trial and suffering outrageous conditions,” she said.

“He has no passport and I am calling on the Iranian government to free him.”

Mr Phelan insisted he is innocent of all the allegations – and supporters claim he was targeted by the Tehran regime in a bid to silence European countries critical of its crackdown on domestic dissent.

He is now suffering from multiple health complaints including hypertensive cardiac disease, eyesight problems that his family fear could leave him partially blind as well as chronic weight loss.

An Iranian judge signalled a draconian six-and-a-half year prison term last month as Mr Phelan’s family appealed for him to be allowed home.

His father, Vincent (97), released a special YouTube video in which he appealed for his son to be allowed to leave Iran – and expressed fears of ever seeing him again.

Mr Phelan’s sister, Caroline Massé Phelan, pleaded with the Irish and French authorities to do more to help her brother.

Iranian authorities accused Mr Phelan, who was educated in Dublin, of “providing information to an enemy country”.

This is believed to refer to harmless tourist photos that Mr Phelan took while in the country.

French authorities have now bluntly warned Iran they will be held responsible as fears mount over Mr Phelan’s health.

The Phelan family revealed he has had to use cardboard to block icy gusts from the open bar windows of his cell in the notorious Vakil Abad prison.

Mr Phelan had launched a hunger strike in a bid to protest at his unjust detention since last October – and now his family revealed he fears he could lose his sight.

His sister managed to speak by telephone to her brother for the first time in over four months in February.

Mr Phelan’s family were horrified to learn that he has been suffering increasing sight problems while in the Iranian prison.

“During the call Bernard told me about the problems with his eye. He said he can no longer see clearly through his eye and we are really worried about not only his sight but his general health,” she said.

His family fear that the sight problems may be related to complications arising from cornea replacement surgery he apparently underwent early last year before he travelled to Iran as part of his tourism business.

They are worried that, if left untreated, the eye issues could leave him partially blind.

“He is an innocent man caught in the middle of I do not know what. He loves Iran. He is 64 and he is sick. All he wants is to go home,” said Ms Massé Phelan.

Mr Phelan’s family were left heartbroken three weeks ago when he was not amongst a group of prisoners granted early release from Iranian prisons as part of an amnesty package.

They are now pleading with the French and Irish authorities to do more to help him before he suffers permanent health problems.

“It is very, very upsetting,” she said.

Mr Phelan was arrested as protests erupted across Iran last year.

He was in the country to promote tourism to Iran – and other tourism operators were left shocked when he was dragged away by Iranian paramilitary police with a hood over his head.

The Iranian authorities have kept Mr Phelan in one of the worst prisons in the country – and he was being detained in a cell on death row where a number of inmates have been executed over recent weeks.

Tehran has implemented a brutal crackdown on dissent and has executed a number of its nationals over the past few weeks in the wake of massive street demonstrations.

Iran has been gripped by street protests since a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in custody after being detained by the feared religious police for allegedly wearing her headscarf in an inappropriate manner.

A number of western nationals have been detained in Iran in the wake of the protests.

Some analysts said this was a deliberate policy by Tehran to try to silence the countries that are its most strident international critics.

Mr Phelan has vehemently denied a charge levelled against him by the Iranian authorities of helping to incite propaganda against the Tehran Government.

He was detained in the city of Mashhad on October 3.

Iranian authorities accused him of “propaganda against the establishment” and of photographing police officers.

While born in Clonmel in Co Tipperary, he has been based in France for many years and is understood to have been travelling on a French passport when he was detained.

Mr Phelan does have an Irish passport – and his family believe he was detained simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The French authorities have been trying to provide consular support for Mr Phelan’s family.

They demanded last month that Tehran release the tourism operator – and warned France would hold Tehran responsible for the health of any of its citizens in custody.

“We are extremely concerned given the extreme fragility of his health situation,” French Foreign Ministry official Anne-Claire Legendre admitted.

“The denial of medical access at this point from the Iranian authorities is completely unacceptable.”