Australian Couple Face 10-Year Jail Term in Iran for Flying Drone Near Tehran

Published September 12th, 2019 - 07:34 GMT
British-Australian Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin were arrested in Iran in July while undertaking a round-the-world trip they were documenting online. (Jolie King/ Instagram)
British-Australian Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin were arrested in Iran in July while undertaking a round-the-world trip they were documenting online. (Jolie King/ Instagram)
Building designer Jolie King and her lover Mark Firkin have been detained

The identities of a British-Australian blogger and her Australian lover who are facing ten years in an Iranian jail have been revealed.

Building designer Jolie King and construction manager Mark Firkin were arrested in July after they were caught operating the drone near Tehran without a licence.

The pair were in the country while undertaking a round-the-world driving expedition they had been documenting online that started in Western Australia and was due to finish in London.

The couple's families said Thursday the whole situation is a 'misunderstanding' and that they were unaware of the strict drone laws employed by the country.

'[We] hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible,' their families said.

The Australian government has said it is assisting the families of three Australian detainees in Iran, which includes a second British-Australian woman who was arrested in a separate incident.

That woman is reported to be an academic who once studied at Cambridge and was lecturing in Australia when she was arrested.

Persian-language broadcaster Manoto TV revealed the names of the bloggers on Twitter overnight, despite diplomatic efforts to keep them under wraps. 

A source told The Times that the Iranian authorities had informed Ms King that she was being detained in hope of a prisoner swap.   

At their time of arrest the couple had been travelling overland from one side of the world to the other and documenting their adventure. 

The couple had previously said that they wanted to share their journey online to show that countries with a bad reputation are still okay to travel to.

'Our biggest motivation behind the vlogs [video blogs] is to hopefully inspire anyone wanting to travel, and also try to break the stigma around travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media', they said in a post.

The couple had been living together in Cottesloe Beach, Perth, having moved in recent years from New South Wales. 

Their adventure first began in the summer of 2017 after they saved up all their money to travel overland in an SUV from Australia to the United Kingdom. 

They island-hopped across south east Asia and were toward the middle of their trip, having crossed through scenic Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan. 

The couple arrived in Iran on June 30 and immediately took to social media to update their followers. 

In a video message they said: 'We're now in Iran and we're camped on a nice hill here next to the capital Tehran. We just arrived. It's actually really beautiful.'

The video is no longer on the couple's YouTube channel and their fans had begun to worry about their long silence.  

Four weeks ago, one worried fan posted to Instagram: 'GUYS WHERE ARE YOU ITS BEEN A MONTH - R U OKAY???'  

Another said: 'Anyone else worried about what happened when they went to China?? 

'It's been over a month and Jodie said they would update us as soon as they got in!' 

A third said: 'Something's definitely not right'. 

The couple had planned return to Perth early next year. Instead, they are awaiting trial in the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian television. 

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The bloggers' families said in a statement via Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: 'Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible.

'We have no further comment to make at this stage and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time.' 

The bureau's travel advice for Iran is 'reconsider your need to travel' and 'do not travel' in some parts of the country bordering Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. 

The travel warning says foreigners are of increased risk of being 'arbitrarily detained, or arrested'. The Australian government said it is providing consular assistance to the families. 

News of their arrest emerged Tuesday, at the same time as it was revealed another British-Australian woman - an academic who studied at Cambridge - has also been locked up. That woman has not yet been identified.

It is thought that both Ms King and the other woman are currently being kept at Evin prison in Tehran, the same jail where British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held on spying charges since 2016.

The arrests come amid heightened tensions between Iran, and Britain and Australia. 

Australia only recently announced it would send a warship, surveillance aircraft and 200 trips to counter Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz. 

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned the Iranian ambassador in London on Wednesday in order to voice 'serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention.'

It is thought Ms King - a dual national whose mother is believed to live in Australia - is being kept in a ward for female political prisoners.  

It was also reported that the unnamed academic is in solitary confinement after she was sentenced to ten years in prison for an unknown offence. 

The sentence is common for foreign nationals charged with espionage.

Tulip Siddiq, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's Labour MP, told The Times: 'This terrible news shows a clear escalation of Iran's hostage diplomacy.

'Soft diplomatic responses to Iran's illegal and inhumane treatment of British prisoners have been a failure.' 

Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, told the paper: 'I complained to the foreign secretary last week that we'd been seeing an escalation from Iran in recent months, even since our hunger strike, publicly taking Nazanin to hospital in chains and restricting her visits and calls, new big sentences announced for other innocent people, and more British citizens being taken, even non-Iranian.'

He said Iran must be made to understand 'hostage diplomacy is not OK' and the UK Government 'cannot keep sitting quietly by while ordinary people are being taken as bargaining chips'.  

Asked about detained Australians, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday the government would 'continue to pursue these matters in the interests of the Australians at the centre of these cases'.

'We will do that carefully and we will do that in close consultation through our officials who have been part of this process now for some time,' he told reporters in Canberra.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to the detained trio and has urged Australians to reconsider travelling to Iran.

Earlier this week, the Australian government updated its travel advice for Iran to 'reconsider your need to travel' and 'do not travel' to areas near the border with Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear if any of the three have been charged.

This article has been adapted from its original source.  

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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