MELBOURNE/LONDON, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Three Australian citizens have been detained in Iran, the Australian government said on Wednesday, adding that it was helping the families of the three but gave no further details.
The brief statement from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came after the British newspaper the Times reported that two British-Australian women and the Australian boyfriend of one of them had been jailed in Iran.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran. Due to our privacy obligations, we will not comment further,” a department spokesman said in emailed comments.
The detentions have come amid a growing standoff 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.
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.
They 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 Times said.
The newspaper 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 Sky News.
Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab on Wednesday raised concerns 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 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”. (https://smartraveller.gov.au/Countries/middle-east/Pages/iran.aspx)
“We can’t guarantee access to consular services or legal representation if you’re detained or arrested,” the government says.
The Times said the blogger was arrested about 10 weeks ago with her boyfriend.
It was unclear when or why the lecturer was arrested, the Times said. She is being held in solitary confinement and has been sentenced to 10 years, according to a source cited by the Times.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul and William James Editing by Robert Birsel)