Iran confirms UK and Australian citizens are being detained

Two British-Australians and an Australian national are being held in Iran for spying and “taking images at sensitive areas”, Tehran has said.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated academic who was most recently a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University, has been in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for almost a year, having reportedly been given a 10-year sentence.

Another British-Australian woman, Jolie King, and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin, have been held for the past 10 weeks in an unrelated incident.

The trio’s detentions came to light last week and the Australian Government said it is lobbying Tehran to ensure all three are appropriately cared for.

Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars reported that the Islamic Republic’s judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmayeeli confirmed their detention for spying.

“These individuals have been detained in two cases and indictments have been issued for both,” he said.

One of the cases referred to images taken by two foreign nationals in military and banned zones, and “the images have been retrieved from the memory of the camera which has been discovered and seized from them,” he added.

“In a separate case, a foreign national has been accused of spying for another country and the court will judge if this person has done a crime or not.”

The University of Melbourne’s website lists Dr Moore-Gilbert on its “Find an expert” page as a lecturer at the university’s Asia Institute.

It says she “specialises in Middle Eastern politics, with a particular focus on the Arab Gulf states,” and that she had published work on the 2011 Arab uprisings, authoritarian governance and on the role of new media technologies in political activism.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Saturday released a statement from Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, which said: “We have been and continue to be in close contact with the Australian Government.

“Our family thanks the Government and the University of Melbourne for their ongoing support at this distressing and sensitive time. We believe that the best chance of securing Kylie’s safe return is through diplomatic channels.

“We will not be making any further comment and would like to request that our privacy – and that of our wider family and friends – is respected at this time.”

Although Iranian authorities have not made public the charges against Dr Moore-Gilbert, 10-year sentences have regularly been given to those convicted of spying.

Dr David Malet, who served on Ms Moore-Gilbert’s dissertation committee, tweeted: “Very distraught to learn Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been in solitary confinement for a year and faces 10-year sentence.

“She’s a wonderful person and a serious scholar, not a spy.”

Ms King and Mr Firkin, who left their home in Perth, Western Australia, in 2017, had been posting updates on their trip across Asia on social media before being arrested.

Evin prison, the main detention centre for Iran’s political prisoners, also houses 41-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one who is midway through a five year sentence on spying charges which began in 2016.