Iran releases foreign travel bloggers
A UK-Australian citizen and her Australian partner have been released from detention in Iran following weeks of diplomatic negotiations between Canberra and Tehran.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne said that travel bloggers, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, had travelled back to Australia and were in “good health and good spirits” following their release from custody. She said Iranian authorities had dropped all charges against the couple, who were arrested several months ago while flying a drone to take photos for a blog documenting their round the world travels.
“For Jolie and for Mark the ordeal that they have been through is now over,” said Ms Payne. “The government has worked very hard through diplomatic channels during that time to secure their release. As well as to ensure they were treated appropriately while they were detained.”
Ms Payne said a third UK-Australian citizen, academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, remained in detention in Iran and that Canberra was continuing to seek her return to Australia. She said the case was “very complex” because Ms Moore-Gilbert had already been convicted by the Iranian legal system.
“We don’t accept the charges upon which she was convicted and we would seek to have her returned to Australia,” said Ms Payne.
Ms Moore-Gilbert, who is a lecturer in Islamic Studies at University of Melbourne, has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for about a year, with media reports suggesting that she had been sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges.
Iran is also holding the dual UK-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Evin jail.
The arrests of westerners in Iran have raised concerns among analysts that Tehran is engaging in hostage diplomacy following Washington’s imposition of sanctions last year.
Tension between Iran and the west has been mounting since US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord that Tehran signed with world powers. In July Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, an event that prompted the creation of a US-led coalition including the UK, Australia and Bahrain to protect shipping in the Gulf.
There are signs Iran is open to rapprochement with western powers. On Wednesday president Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic believed the path was open for negotiations with major powers over its nuclear activities and regional policies. A French initiative to update the 2015 nuclear deal — in crisis since the US abandoned it last year — could provide an acceptable base to restart talks, he said, provided that the US showed that it was willing to move toward the lifting of sanctions.