Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Iran charges detained Australian bloggers and lecturer with spying

Criminal charges have been issued for allegedly using drones to take pictures of military sites and spying for another country

Australian bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin are reportedly being detained in Evin prison in Tehran after the couple were arrested while travelling through Iran. Courtesy Instagram / Jolie King
Australian bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin are reportedly being detained in Evin prison in Tehran after the couple were arrested while travelling through Iran. Courtesy Instagram / Jolie King

Iran has charged two Australian travel bloggers and a university lecturer, who were detained some weeks ago, with spying and they are now set to face trial.

It was reported last week that the families of travel-blogging couple Jolie King and Mark Firkin and Melbourne University lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert said they had been arrested in Iran.

In the first confirmation from Tehran that they have been detained, spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili told reporters that two Australians were alleged to have used a drone to take pictures of military sites, while a third was accused of spying for another country.

"The news is correct," Mr Esmaili said in a video posted on the state television website.

"Criminal charges have been issued for both cases and they are waiting for their trial," he said.

"It will be the court that rules if they are guilty and need to be sentenced or whether to issue another verdict."

It is unclear from official sources in Iran when the trio were arrested and where they are being held.

Australia first revealed three of its citizens had been detained in Iran on September 11.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said there was "no reason" to believe the arrests were politically motivated.

Ms King, an Australian-British dual national, and Mr Firkin have been documenting their two-year journey from Perth, Australia, on Instagram and YouTube as they make their way to the UK overland in a Toyota LandCruiser.

The pair, whose last updates showed them in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, went silent abruptly at the end of June. They are now believed to be in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

The families of the two bloggers have called for their safe return after they were identified on social media and in the British press.

Lecturer Ms Moore-Gilbert's family said on Saturday that she had been held in Iran for a "number of months".

The academic specialises in Middle East politics with a focus on Gulf states.

News of their detention came after Australia said it would join a US-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, following attacks and seizures involving a number of tankers in the strategic waterway.

On August 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a "modest" Australian contribution to the US-led coalition to escort commercial vessels in the strait – a chokepoint for around a third of the world's seaborne oil.

The contribution includes a P8 Poseidon aircraft to patrol the region for a month later this year and a frigate with a crew of about 170 to be deployed for six months from January.

Updated: September 17, 2019 04:20 PM

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