Australia Confirms Citizens Detained in Iran for Unknown Reasons

  • "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran," says the brief official note without providing further information.
  • The Times reported on its website that two women with dual Australian and British nationality, and the Australian boyfriend of one of them, were imprisoned in Iran.
  • Iran has a long history of arresting foreigners, especially those of Iranian origin with dual citizenship.

Australia confirmed on Wednesday that three of its citizens are being held in Iran. Two women with dual Australian-British citizenship and the Australian boyfriend of one of them are being held for unknown reasons. The Australian government confirms that it is taking steps to pursue the case.

Scott Morrison is an Australian politician who is the 30th and current Prime Minister of Australia and Leader of the Liberal Party since August 2018. He previously served in the Cabinet from 2013 to 2018, including as Treasurer of Australia.

The reason for their arrest is unknown, but the news coincides with the increase in tensions between Tehran and the West, following the US abandonment of the nuclear agreement. The Islamic Republic frequently uses the arrest of foreigners, especially of Iranian origin, as a form of pressure.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran,” says the brief official note without providing further information, because it is a confidential matter. The confirmation by the government in Canberra came at dawn, shortly after the British newspaper, The Times reported on its website that two women with dual Australian and British nationality, and the Australian boyfriend of one of them, were imprisoned in Iran. The Iranian authorities are silent as of now.

Although there is not much data on the matter, the information disseminated by British and Australian media agrees that these are two cases with no apparent connection. One of the women is apparently a blogger who was traveling with her boyfriend through Asia and they were arrested ten weeks ago. The other, a professor who studied at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), and taught at an Australian university, was arrested a year ago and, according to some sources, would have been sentenced to ten years in prison. In both cases the reasons are unknown. At the request of the authorities, no one has published their names.

They are the first foreigners without dual Iranian nationality that Iran has caught in recent years. Two American hikers arrested in 2009 spent two years in prison before being released.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment allegedly for “…plotting to topple the Iranian government.” The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was being held for running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran”

Australian media notes that the arrests became known shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last August that Canberra would be making a small contribution to the US mission to protect navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. It is strongly suspected there is a link between the two, especially if the detention dates are confirmed.

Iran has a long history of arresting foreigners, especially those of Iranian origin with dual citizenship. The arrests are seen as an act of revenge in their recurring crises with the West. Currently, about thirty foreigners are imprisoned in that country. In fact, both the US Department of State and the British Foreign Office warn on their respective websites that in case of arrest, they will not be able to provide consular assistance. Tehran does not recognize dual citizenship and will treat them as Iranians.

Tehran seems especially obsessed with British-Iranian citizens. Among the most striking cases is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who was arrested in 2016 while visiting her mother. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was tried for espionage and sentenced to five years for “trying to tear down the regime.”

According to The Times, the two Australians, whose deprivation of liberty has been known now, are imprisoned in Evin prison, the same in which Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a sentence. “There is a risk that foreigners, including Australians, can be arbitrarily detained,” warns the latest update of the Australian Foreign Ministry website.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.


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