Iran’s judiciary has confirmed it has detained three Australian citizens, alleging they were arrested for spying and taking images from sensitive areas.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmaeili confirmed the arrests in a press conference in Tehran.
“This is true. These individuals have been detained in two cases and indictments have been issued for both.”
He said one of the cases related to images taken by two foreign nationals from military and restricted areas, and “the images have been retrieved from the memory of the camera which has been discovered and seized from them”.
The other case involved a foreign national accused of “spying for another country” Esmaeili said.
“Criminal charges have been issued for both cases and they are waiting for their trial,” he said. “It will be the court that rules if they are guilty and need to be sentenced or whether to issue another verdict.”
It was the first official confirmation that Australians have been detained in Iran after the Australian government and families of three of them said last week they had been arrested in the Islamic republic.
It has been reported that all three Australians were being held in Evin prison, though this was not confirmed by Esmaeili.
British-Australian woman Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend, Mark Firkin, were arrested 10 weeks ago near the capital. It is understood the pair were flying a drone – to shoot pictures for a travel blog – near military installations in Jajrood in Tehran province.
The couple left their home in Perth, Western Australia, in 2017, documenting their travels on a blog called The Way Overland. Dozens of videos and photographs posted online appear to have been shot using a drone. They went silent about 10 weeks ago after posting updates from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.
Cambridge-educated academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who is also a dual-British citizen, has been held in Iran for “a number of months” according to her family. The Guardian understands she was arrested around September last year.
Previous reports indicated she had been tried on espionage-related charges and sentenced to 10 years’ jail, but Esmaeili said she was also still awaiting trial. Earlier reports also suggested she was being held in Evin in solitary confinement, but the judiciary spokesman offered no comment on this.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoted Esmaeili as saying the charges against Moore-Gilbert concerned alleged “spying for another country”, though he did not specify the country.
Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at University of Melbourne, has written extensively about revolutions and activism in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Shia Islam, Bahraini politics and its protest movements.
Moore-Gilbert’s most recent publications have been journal articles and book chapters on Bahrain’s “February 14” pro-democracy youth movement and online opposition activism during Bahrain’s post-Arab Spring crackdown.
At the time she was arrested she held a grant to research “Iran’s relationship with Bahrain’s Shia after the Arab uprisings”. The grant was part of the University of Melbourne’s early career researcher grants scheme.
The Australian government, which first revealed on 11 September that three of its citizens had been detained in Iran, has said it is providing consular assistance for the three detainees.
The foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said there was “no reason” to believe the arrests were politically motivated.
“We have no reason to think that these arrests are connected to international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, United Nations sanction enforcement or maritime security concerning the safety of civilian shipping.”
In April Tehran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, raised the case of Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman arrested by Australia in 2017.
Zarif proposed that Iranians jailed in the United States or other countries on extradition requests issued by the Americans could be swapped for US citizens held in Iran.
Ghodskani has since been extradited to the US and confessed to participation in a conspiracy to illegally export technology to Iran in breach of sanctions.
Australia said in August it would join a US-led naval coalition to escort commercial ships in the Gulf, after a spate of attacks blamed on Iran, but which Tehran denied.
However, that announcement is understood to have come after the arrest of the three Australians in Iran.
with Agence France-Presse