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Two British-Australian women and Australian man held in Iran: Report

UK newspaper says one of the women was arrested 10 weeks ago while another has been jailed for 10 years
The reported detentions come amid heightened tension between Western powers and Iran (AFP)

Two British-Australian women and an Australian man have been detained in Iran, according to a UK newspaper.

The Times said one of the women was arrested with her boyfriend 10 weeks ago on unknown charges while another woman was jailed for 10 years and is being held in solitary confinement.

The Australian government said on Wednesday that three of its citizens had been detained in Iran, adding that it was helping the families of the three but giving no further details.

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"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran," a spokesman said in emailed comments to the Reuters news agency.

"Due to our privacy obligations, we will not comment further." 

The two British-Australian women are believed to be the first British passport holders without dual Iranian nationality to be held in the country in recent years.

Prisoner swap

The Times said a blogger who had been travelling in Asia with her Australian boyfriend, as well as an academic who had studied at Cambridge University and was lecturing at a university in Australia, had been detained in separate incidents.

It was unclear when or why the lecturer was arrested, the newspaper said. 

The blogger and her boyfriend are being held in the same prison in Tehran where a British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been jailed since 2016 on spying charges.

The 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, the Times said.

Followers of the pair's social media accounts had expressed concern about their silence in recent weeks.

A source with knowledge of the cases said that 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, the newspaper said.

'Hostage-taking has become part of the process'

The reported detentions come amid heightened tension between western powers and Iran after the United States withdrew from a deal that imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear programme and then imposed sanctions on it, aiming to halt its oil exports.

Alistair Burt, a former British foreign office minister, told the UK's BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Iran works on the basis of putting pressure on countries it believes are hostile to it. Hostage-taking has become part of the process and it’s deeply worrying.”

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Speaking on Wednesday, he said that Iran was “looking to hit back” after the US abandonment of the nuclear treaty with Iran.

Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, raised concerns on Wednesday with the Iranian ambassador to Britain over the number of dual-nationality citizens detained in Iran and the conditions in which they were being held.

“The foreign secretary met the Iranian ambassador this morning and raised serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention," the British foreign ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Raab had summoned Iran’s ambassador to say that oil on an Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar had been transferred to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

The Adrian Darya I, which was seized in July with the help of British Royal Marines, was released last month after Iran gave written assurances that it was not bound for Syria.

Iranian officials said on Sunday that the supertanker had unloaded its oil with satellite images released on the same day showing the vessel just outside of the Syrian port of Tartus.

Middle East Eye had reported exclusively on Friday that the supertanker had offloaded to a port in the country.

'Extremely concerning'

The Times did not identify the dual British-Australians at the request of the British foreign office and said the Australian government was taking the lead in both cases.

"It does sound extremely concerning and of course the UK government will do everything we can to support any UK British citizens who are caught in Iran," British business minister Andrea Leadsom told the UK's Sky News.

The Australian government's official travel advice for Iran overall is for people to reconsider the need to travel to Iran "due to the risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested. Dual nationals are also at risk".

"We can't guarantee access to consular services or legal representation if you're detained or arrested," the government's advice says.