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Iran on Friday released two French citizens jailed on separate charges and both are now returning to France, the French foreign minister said.

Bernard Phelan, who also holds Irish citizenship, and Benjamin Brier have been released from prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad and are “on their way to France,” Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna said in a statement released by the Foreign Office.

They were among two dozen foreigners jailed in Iran who are being held hostage by campaigners as part of a deliberate strategy by Tehran to extract concessions from the West.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “Free at last. Benjamin Brier and Bernard Phelan will be reunited with their loved ones. It’s a relief. I welcome their release. Thanks to everyone who participated in this. We will continue to work for the return of our compatriots who are still in custody in Iran.”

Phelan, 64, a travel consultant from Paris, was arrested in October in Mashhad and has been in custody since then.

In April, he was jailed for six and a half years on national security charges, which his family strongly denied.

Phelan’s family said his health had deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment. Phelan went on hunger strike in January to protest his arrest, but called off the action at the request of his family, who feared he would die.

Brier, 37, was first detained during a trip to Iran in May 2020 and later sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage.

He was later acquitted by an appeals court but remained in prison in a situation his family found “incomprehensible”.

Detained, like Phelan, at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, Briere also went on hunger strike to protest his conditions.

Four more French citizens, who were previously called “hostages” by the French Foreign Ministry, are still being held in an Iranian prison.

Colonna said she had spoken with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian earlier on Friday and made clear France’s “determination to ensure that other French citizens still in custody in Iran also soon regain their full freedom.”

Iran’s foreign ministry also said the two had spoken by phone about the release of Brier and Phelan, which it called a “humanitarian act”.