Iran holds four arrested Australians ‘hostage’
Four Australians have been seized in Iran since late last year, with three of the hostages currently being held in a notorious Tehran prison
A young couple — an Australian man and his Australian-British partner — were travelling the world, blogging about their adventures, when they were reportedly seized by Iran about 10 weeks ago.
A female academic who holds Australian and British citizenship is also being detained and has reportedly been sentenced to 10 years in prison for an unspecified offence.
The Australian government has been quietly trying to negotiate their release in recent months.
Another woman, dual Australian-Iranian citizen and Melbourne University demographer Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, was arrested in Iran in December, charged with trying to “infiltrate” Iranian institutions.
She has reportedly been released on bail, but has not been allowed to leave Iran while the investigation into her case is conducted.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed on Wednesday it was providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians, but refused to provide further information.
It is understood DFAT officials were trying to negotiate the Australians’ release outside the glare of media attention.
The Australian’s British stablemate, The Times, knew the identity of those detained but elected not to publish the
information in its report. The negotiations come at a delicate time — Scott Morrison announced in August that Australia would join a US-led mission to protect shipping against Iranian attacks, allocating a navy frigate, a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft and specialist personnel to the operation.
The Iranian government warned at the time that Australia’s “reputation and prestige” would be damaged by the commitment.
The detained Australians have been imprisoned in Evin jail, Tehran, where Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 41-year-old British-Iranian mother of one, has been held since 2016 on spying charges.
The blogger couple were in Iran as part of a trip that started in Australia three years ago, and had been documenting their travels on YouTube and Instagram.
Followers of their social media accounts expressed concern about their silence in recent weeks.
A source with knowledge of the cases said the woman had been told by the Iranian authorities that she was being held as part of a plan to facilitate a prisoner swap with Australia, according to The Times.
Australian officials refused to comment on the suggestion.
The academic had studied at Cambridge University and worked at an Australian university.
She is reportedly being held in solitary confinement and has been sentenced to 10 years.
Her alleged offence is unknown, but a decade is a common sentence for foreigners on espionage charges.
British MP Tulip Siddiq, who is Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local member, 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.”
Official travel advice for Iran urges Australians to “reconsider your need to travel” due to risks that foreigners “could be arbitrarily detained or arrested”.
When announcing Australia’s commitment to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, the Prime Minister criticised “destabilising behaviour” in the region, where Iran had been harassing foreign ships.
Mr Morrison said Australia had an “enduring interest in the security of global sea lanes”, and cited the nation’s reliance on crude oil and refined oil travelling through the Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran’s ambassador to London was summoned on Tuesday to see UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Mr Raab said that oil on an Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar had been transferred to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
The supertanker, seized in July with the help of the Royal Marines, was released last month after Iran gave written assurances that it was not bound for Syria.
Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi was arrested in December. Other Australians are thought to be in Evin jail, below