Australian couple charged with spying in Iran released

Australian couple charged with spying in Iran released

An Australian travel-blogging couple held in Iran on charges of spying have been released, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Saturday.

Perth-based Jolie King and Mark Firkin had been documenting their journey from Australia to the United Kingdom on social media for the past two years but went silent after posting updates from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan about three months ago.

The couple was arrested in July after they were alleged to have used a drone to take pictures of “military sites and forbidden areas”, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said last month. They had since been held in the notorious Evin prison north of Tehran.

Following “very sensitive negotiations” with Tehran, the couple has been released, Payne said on Saturday.

“They are being returned to Australia and they will be reunited with their family,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“For Jolie and for Mark, the ordeal they have been through is now over,” she added. “They are in good spirits and they are in good health.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s state media reported that an Iranian student that was detained in Australia for 13 months on accusations of circumventing US sanctions on military equipment has returned to Tehran after being released.

Reza Dehbashi, a PhD student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, had been arrested for “attempting to purchase and transfer advanced American military radar equipment via Dubai to Iran”, the state TV’s website said.

‘Spying for another country’

Negotiations over the fate of Melbourne University Academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a third Australian accused of “spying for another country”, were ongoing, Australia’s Foreign Minister Payne said.

University lecturer Moore-Gilbert, who specialises in Middle East politics with a focus on Gulf states, had been held for “some months” before King and Firkin in an unrelated case.

“She has been detained for some considerable time and has faced the Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced,” Payne said.

“We are continuing our discussions with the Iranian government,” the foreign minister added. “We don’t accept the charges on which she was convicted and we would seek to have her returned to Australia.”

Last year, Moore-Gilbert was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spying.

News of the arrests last month came after Canberra announced it would contribute a frigate and surveillance aircraft to a US-led mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, with tensions high in the Gulf region.

Payne has maintained the cases of those being held were not related to diplomatic tensions.

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