The Australian government has confirmed that three of its citizens have been detained in Iran following media reports that a couple were apprehended in a military area, and a female academic was jailed in a separate incident.
In a statement released on Wednesday morning, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said that it has been “providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran.”
Citing its “privacy obligation,” the department said that it would not be releasing any additional information following the initial statement.
While it provides little insight into the cases, the announcement seems to confirm reports in the British media that two dual British-Australian nationals and an Australian citizen were detained in Iran.
The Times reported that one of the detainees is a female academic who holds both Australian and British passports. The woman, reportedly a Cambridge University graduate, was sentenced to 10 years behind bars by an Iranian court and will spend the term in solitary confinement. The nature of the charges is unclear at the moment, with London and Tehran so far silent about her arrest and reported trial.
Another of the detainees is also reportedly a British-Australian woman, a blogger who was taken into custody while traveling through Iran with her Australian boyfriend. Media reports allege that the duo chose a strange place to camp – a military area around the Jajrood river in the country’s north – where they were ultimately apprehended by the Iranian authorities. They were reportedly keeping their followers on social media posted about the journey and it was the absence of the updates that initially prompted concern.
The couple were reportedly rounded up and taken to an Iranian jail over two months ago, while the academic, who is said to teach at an Australian university, had been arrested several months ago, according to a source cited by the Guardian.
The arrests of the academic and the campers are believed to be unrelated. The Times, citing its sources, reported that the travel blogger was told that she could be an asset in a potential prisoner exchange with Australia.
The reports come amid rising tensions between the UK and Iran, which saw a flare-up this summer after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Tehran retaliated by detaining the British-flagged ‘Stena Impero’ in the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian tanker was released in August and was last spotted along Syria’s coast, while Tehran said on Sunday it could release the British-flagged vessel “within days.”
Since then, the UK has joined a US-led international naval armada to “protect shipping” in the Persian Gulf, sending three warships to the area and is reportedly mulling deploying a number of Reaper drones to aid military patrols there.
Australia has been actively doing Washington’s bidding in the area as well, and will be sending a frigate and P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance plane to the strait.
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