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Australia Lobbies For Release Of Three Citizens Held By Iran

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (file photo)
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (file photo)

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said she is trying to secure the release of three of her country's citizens held by Tehran, one of whom has been imprisoned for nearly a year, Reuters reported.

Payne said late on September 13 that she had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Bangladesh last week to discuss the detention of two British-Australian women and an Australian man.

She declined to provide specific details of the talks, which she said have gone on for more than a week.

"The government has been making efforts to ensure they [the detainees] are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international norms," Payne told the Australian senate.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed earlier in the week that two of those incarcerated are couple Mark Firkin and Jolie King.

The third dual-national detainee hasn't been named by the Australian government. The reasons for the arrests of the three citizens have also not been provided.

Britain's The Times newspaper said the other British-Australian woman was an academic and had been given a 10-year sentence, although the charges were not clear, dpa reported.

Ten-year prison terms are routinely given in Iran for spying charges.

The male and female couple were detained about 10 weeks ago by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps for camping in a military area around Jajrood in Tehran Province, according to BBC Persian.

The couple were avid travel bloggers and their YouTube channel has 21,500 subscribers.

Manoto TV, a Persian-language broadcaster based in London, reported on September 12 that the couple had been arrested due to their lack of knowledge of Iranian laws relating to drone use.

Britain's Foreign Office on September 11 said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab "met the Iranian Ambassador...and raised serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention."

All three are being are believed to be incarcerated at the Evin prison in Tehran where political prisoners are usually detained, the The Times reported. It's the same prison where a British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been jailed since 2016 on spying charges, The Times said.

The Australian government updated its travel advisory for Iran on September 9 stating that "due to the risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested," travelers should reconsider their need to travel to the country.

The arrests come amid rising tensions between Iran and the West, after the United States withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that offered sanctions relief in exchange for Iran placing curbs on its nuclear program..

With reporting by ABC Australia, The Irish Times, dpa, Reuters, The Times, BBC, and the Sydney Morning Herald