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Why two British-Australian women are being held in Iran

Evin prison, Iran
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Evin prison, Iran
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Tehran’s Evin Prison

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Evin prison, Iran

Duo believed to be in same jail as British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

In Depth Gabriel Power
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 11:36am

Two British-Australian women are among three people reported to have been arrested and detained in Iran.

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One of the women, an academic, is believed to have been arrested several months ago and has since been sentenced to ten years in prison and put in solitary confinement, says The Guardian.

The other woman, a blogger, was “reportedly told by Iranian authorities she was being held to facilitate a prisoner swap with Australia”, after being arrested along with her Australian boyfriend about ten weeks ago, the newspaper adds.

The accusations levelled against the trio are unclear, although BBC Persian reports that the blogger and her partner were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for camping in a military precinct around Jajrood in Tehran province.

Little information is available relating to the charges against the academic, who studied at the University of Cambridge and was lecturing at an Australian university. However, the BBC notes that “ten-year terms are routinely given in Iran for spying charges”.

All three detainees are believed to be in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held on spying charges since 2016.

The Times, which broke the news of the latest arrests, says the detainments are “likely to raise questions about the travel advice issued by the Foreign Office (FCO)”. The UK government department has warned of the risk of arbitrary detention for all British citizens, but has only advised an all-out ban on travel to the country for British-Iranian dual citizens.

The FCO website currently says: “There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran.

“All British nationals should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran.”

The department has declined to comment on the arrest claims. 

However, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has confirmed that it is “providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran”, adding that “due to our privacy obligations, we will not comment further”.

The news of the detainments comes as tensions continue to mount between Iran and a US-UK-Australia coalition over a series of tit-for-tat tanker seizures in Gibraltar and the Strait of Hormuz.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran says that at least 12 dual and foreign nationals or Iranian citizens with foreign permanent residences were known to be imprisoned in Iran as of July 2019.

According to The Guardian, the rights organisation has noted “a pattern to the arrest of foreign nationals, involving prolonged solitary confinement and interrogations, a lack of due legal process and access to counsel, and a denial of consular access or visits by the UN or humanitarian organisations”.

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Australia Iran Tehran Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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