Family of British-Australian detainee in Iran hoping for safe return

The family of a British-Australian woman being detained in an Iranian jail has said they hope she will be able to return home soon.

Jolie King was arrested 10 weeks ago along with her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin.

They had allegedly been flying a drone without a licence, according to a Persian TV report.

The couple resigned from their jobs in mid-2017, according to Australian media reports, and embarked on a two-year drive through 36 countries to reach the UK.

They had been documenting their journey on social media.

In a statement, their relatives said: “Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible.”

They also requested privacy and said they would not be making any further comment.

The Times cited a source on Wednesday as saying Ms King had been told by Iranian authorities that she was being held as part of a plan to facilitate a prisoner swap with Australia.

Ms King, a building designer, is being held in Tehran’s Evin jail.

It is the same prison where British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been since 2016 on spying charges.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said he had met Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab a couple of weeks ago and warned him there had been an escalation in foreign nationals being detained in Iran to be used as diplomatic bargaining chips.

“More people are being taken and the government needs to do a better job at protecting ordinary people from being held and used as chess pieces in this way,” he told Sky News.

In a message to the families of Ms King and Mr Firkin, he said: “My heart goes out to you – it’s a terrible situation to be involved in.”

Another woman, reportedly a lecturer at an Australian university, has been held in the jail for almost a year but her citizenship and situation are unclear.

The arrests come amid a souring in relations between Britain and Iran, after issues such as the seizure by the Royal Marines in July of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar.

Two weeks later, the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized by Iran for alleged marine violations in the Strait of Hormuz. Seven of the Swedish-owned vessel’s 23-strong crew members have since been released.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Wednesday: “The foreign secretary met the Iranian ambassador this morning and raised serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention.”

The FCO has been warning dual Iranian citizens not to travel to Iran, but news of the arrests is likely to raise questions about the level of danger to travellers of other nationalities too.

Its travel advice for Iran currently says: “There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran.

“All British nationals should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran.”

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran.

“Due to our privacy obligations, we will not comment further.”

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