Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Australia concerned for three held in Iran on spying charges

Iran acknowledged for first time on Tuesday it had detained Australian nationals

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert speaks during an interview from 2017. The Modern Middle East / Reuters
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert speaks during an interview from 2017. The Modern Middle East / Reuters

An Australian government minister on Wednesday expressed concern for three nationals arrested in Iran on suspicion of spying, and separated their plight from the standoff in the Middle East over the weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham spoke after Iran on Tuesday acknowledged for the first time that it was holding three Australian citizens, including two British dual nationals, on suspicion of espionage.

“The government continues to seek information and clarity around these matters,” Mr Birmingham told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We are concerned for the welfare of these individuals and work to make sure their treatment is as fair as possible.”

Iran confirmed the arrests of Melbourne University Middle East expert Kylie Moore-Gilbert in October, and travel blogging couple Mark Firkin and Jolie King in July as fallout continues from the fiery missile and drone attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was flying to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss responses to what US officials believe was an attack launched on Iranian soil.

Iran denies involvement in the attack on the Abqaiq oil processing plant and its Khurais oilfield, a strike that interrupted the equivalent of about 5 per cent of the world’s daily supply.

Mr Birmingham said that attack and international reactions to it were “separate matters” to the trio’s plight.

“We monitor the implications of those, but in relation to the parties who are detained, we have diplomatic relations in place with Iran," Mr Birmingham said.

"We continue to try to work through those channels to get the best possible outcome, the fairest possible outcome for those individuals."

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili on Tuesday as saying the three had been charged in two separate cases.

Mr Esmaili said the couple from the west coast city of Perth had been detained over using a drone to take pictures and video of military areas and other unauthorised zones.

He said the other Australian faced charges of spying for another country, without elaborating.

Updated: September 18, 2019 04:23 AM

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