Sunday, 07 June, 2020

Australian and British bloggers arrested in Iran named as Jolie King and Mark Firkin


The Australian couple being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison have been named as Jolie King and Mark Firkin, who were reportedly arrested 10 weeks ago near the Iranian capital.

Firkin and King, who also holds a British passport, have been blogging a globe-trotting adventure since 2017 as they endeavoured to drive from Australia to London. Despite diplomatic efforts to keep their cases from public attention, the pair was named overnight on social media.

Unrelated to the couple’s case, a third Australian is also being held in Evin prison, reportedly in solitary confinement. The Cambridge-educated academic had been lecturing at an Australian university before she was arrested last year. She has reportedly been tried – the charges are unknown – and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The Australian government has been negotiating for the release of all three Australians since their arrests, news of which became public on Wednesday. The Guardian understands both Firkin and Jolie were travelling on Australian passports.

The families of Firkin and King released a statement saying: “Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible.” They said they would not be commenting further and asked for privacy.

The editor of the Persian-language broadcaster Manoto TV, said on Twitter a source had told him the couple had been arrested “for flying a drone near the capital, Tehran”.

Earlier reports suggested the couple had been camping in a military area around Jajrood in Tehran province.

The couple were blogging their travels on YouTube and Instagram. Dozens of videos and photographs posted online appear to have been shot using a drone.

“The family says this was a misunderstanding and Jolie King and her fiance Mark Firkin were unaware of the Iranian law which bans drone flights without a licence,” Zeraati said online.

“Their trial has not been held yet and it is not clear what the Islamic Republic [of Iran] wants out of this arrest, as no one from the judiciary or intelligence services has made any comment on this.”

King, a building designer, and Firkin, a construction manager, have been documenting their travels on a blog called The Way Overland.

On a plan listed on their blog, the couple said their plan was to drive from their home in the Perth suburb of Cottlesloe to London in a Toyota Landcruiser they converted into a mobile home.

King and Firkin started by driving north to Darwin, where they shipped their car to Timor-Leste. The pair then drove through Indonesia, shipped the car to Malaysia and drove up through south-east Asia, India and Pakistan.

The couple posted a video roughly once a week to YouTube and social media, and people following their journey raised concerns when there was silence from the pair.

Their last post on social media was from the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan on 26 June. Their last video was from Pakistan, posted on 25 June, showing the pair driving the Karakoram Highway.

Their final activity on social media appears to have been on Sunday 30 June. Followers and friends began posting increasingly alarmed comments after their accounts fell silent, asking if they were safe.

On social media, Firkin has said he is from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, and the couple moved to Perth from 2015.

There is little information publicly known about the third Australian being held in Evin. Also a British-Australian, the Cambridge-educated academic had been teaching at a university in Melbourne.

She was arrested in Iran late last year. The Guardian understands the woman has been tried – on unknown charges – and jailed for 10 years. She is reportedly being held in solitary confinement.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the department was providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran.

The Australian government’s travel advice for Iran warns: “There is a risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran. We can’t guarantee consular access if you are detained or arrested. We also can’t guarantee access to legal representation.”

The advice also urges travellers not to visit military or nuclear sites, which, it says, “are not always clearly marked”.

The UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace, said on Thursday: “The message to Iran is to follow the international rule of law, to respect freedom of navigation in the Straits, and to release people that have been detained in the way they have been over the last few years.”

Iran has not commented on the arrests, and not yet given any indication the Australians are being held. But Tehran has previously expressed a willingness to engineer prisoner swaps to retrieve Iranian citizens held in foreign jails.

In April, Iran’s foreign affairs minister Mohammad Javad Zarif proposed a prisoner swap involving Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian citizen then held in an Adelaide jail and facing extradition to the US on suspicion of smuggling restricted American technology to Iran.

“Let’s have an exchange. I’m ready to do it.

“I have the authority to do it. We’ve informed the government of the United States six months ago that we are ready.”

Last month Ghodskani, having acceded to the extradition request, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to evade US sanctions and illegally export controlled technology. She faces up to five years in jail.

Relations between Iran and Australia are robust. Australia has maintained diplomatic relations with Tehran through recent decades where other western nations have abandoned them, or they have become acutely strained.

But in August, the Australian prime minister committed to a US-led mission to patrol the Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s south coast, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes. Scott Morrison said “destabilising behaviour” – a thinly veiled reference to Iran’s capture of foreign-flagged ships – was a threat to Australian interests.

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