Australia does not believe the detentions in Iran of two British-Australian women and one Australian man are politically motivated, according to the country’s foreign affairs minister Marise Payne.
Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin have been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for some 10 weeks, having reportedly been arrested for flying a drone without a licence.
In an unrelated case, a second British-Australian woman, a Melbourne-based academic whose name has not been made public, has been in the same prison for almost a year
While news of the trio’s incarcerations only surfaced this week, Senator Payne says she has raised their cases “many times” with her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif.
And Senator Payne has denied the arrests were politically motivated, although some reports have speculated the trio are being held in hope of giving Iran political leverage on a number of ongoing disputes with the western countries.
“We have no reason to think that these arrests are connected to international concern over Iran’s nuclear programme, United Nations sanction enforcement or maritime security concerning the safety of civilian shipping,” Senator Payne said, adding Australian diplomats had been lobbying their Iranian counterparts to ensure all three prisoners were being well treated.
“The government has been making efforts to ensure they are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international norms.”
News of the three prisoners this week has come amid a downturn in relations between Britain and Iran, sparked by issues including the Royal Marines’ seizure near Gibraltar in July of an Iranian oil tanker, the Adrian Darya 1.
Iran responded by seizing British-flagged oil tanker the Stena Impero in what was another chapter in a campaign of interfering with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
While Britain released the Adrian Darya 1, the Stena Impero is still being held by Iran.
Relations between Tehran and the west, especially the United States, have also been strained over attempts to restrict Iran’s nuclear programme.
Ms King and Mr Firkin, who left their home in Perth, Western Australian in 2017, had been posting updates on their trip across Asia on social media before being arrested, reportedly for endeavouring to use a drone to take aerial footage.
Pouria Zeraati, editor in chief at Iranian television station Manoto TV, said on Twitter that the pair had not yet stood trial.
“The family says this was a misunderstanding and Jolie King & her fiance Mark Firkin were unaware of the Iranian law which bans drone flights without a licence,” Mr Zeraati tweeted.
Relatives of the couple have pleaded for their immediate release, in a statement released by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible,” the statement said.
Evin prison, the main detention centre for Iran’s political prisoners, also houses 41-year-old Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one who is midway through a five year sentence on spying charges which began in 2016.
While Iran has not commented publicly on any of the arrests, in April its foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif proposed swapping Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe for Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman in jail in the US.