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British-Australian still held in Iran while couple released, official says

The three people had been accused of spying.

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert remains in detention in Iran (Family handout/PA)
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert remains in detention in Iran (Family handout/PA)

By Benjamin Cooper, PA

A British-Australian woman and her Australian boyfriend accused of spying have returned home “extremely happy and relieved” as an official confirmed a British-Australian academic is still being held in Iran.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne told reporters that it was “with some enormous relief” that she could announce Jolie King and Mark Firkin “have been released and returned” and all charges against them were dropped.

In a statement, the couple said: “We are extremely happy and relieved to be safely back in Australia with those we love. While the past few months have been very difficult, we know it has also been tough for those back home who have been worried for us.

The couple said they now plan to “get back to (their) normal lives” and asked for privacy.

They said: “We know there are others who remain in detention in Iran, including a fellow Australian, and believe intense media coverage may not be helpful for efforts to bring them home.”

Ms Payne confirmed British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert is still in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where she has been for almost a year, having reportedly been handed a 10-year sentence.

“She has been detained for some considerable time, and has faced the Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced,” she said.

“Very long-term negotiations” were taking place to secure the release of the Cambridge-educated academic, Ms Payne added.

Earlier, Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars reported that the Islamic Republic’s judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmayeeli confirmed all three were detained for spying.

After the couple’s release, Iran’s state TV reported that scientist Reza Dehbashi had returned home after he was detained for 13 months in Australia over purchasing a defence system from the United States for use in Iran.

Dr Moore-Gilbert is a Cambridge-educated academic who was most recently a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University.

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Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has confirmed the release of a British-Australian woman and her Australian boyfriend (David Cheskin/PA)

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.

Dr David Malet, who served on Dr Moore-Gilbert’s dissertation committee, has previously described her as 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.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili saying two people, thought to be British-Australian blogger Ms King and her boyfriend Mr Firkin, had been detained for using a drone to take pictures and video of military areas and other unauthorised zones.

Ms Payne said that following their release they were in “good health and in good spirits” after being reunited with their families.

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.

PA

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