The identities of a British-Australian blogger and her Australian lover who are facing ten years in an Iranian jail have been revealed.
Building designer Jolie King and construction manager Mark Firkin were arrested in July after they were caught operating the drone near Tehran without a licence.
The pair were in the country while undertaking a round-the-world driving expedition they had been documenting online that started in Western Australia and was due to finish in London.
The couple’s families said Thursday the whole situation is a ‘misunderstanding’ and that they were unaware of the strict drone laws employed by the country.
British-Australian Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin were arrested in Iran in July while undertaking a round-the-world trip they were documenting online (pictured in April 2018 at Pasih Uug Beach in Indonesia)
The couple pictured above in Gilgit-Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, in one of their final Instagram posts on July 9. They are thought to have been arrested in July
Miss King used to work as a building designer while Mr Firkin was a construction manager, but gave up the ‘9-5 grind’ for a life of travel (pictured in Sumbawa, left, and Goa Rangko Flores, right, both in Indonesia)
The pair posted this photo in September 2016, as they began preparing for their trip by kitting out a Toyota Landcruiser as a makeshift camper van
Jolie King and Australian construction manager Mark Firkin have been revealed as the couple who have been detained in Iran
‘[We] hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible,’ their families said.
The Australian government has said it is assisting the families of three Australian detainees in Iran, which includes a second British-Australian woman who was arrested in a separate incident.
Iran takes prisoners ‘to bargain with the US’
Jolie King, Mark Firkin and another British-Australian woman who has not been identified were arrested in Iran at a time of plummeting relations with the West.
It is thought Tehran plans to use them as bargaining chips to further its aims.
One such aim is likely to be the release of Negar Ghodskani, 40, who was arrested in Australia in 2017 before being extradited to the US amid accusations she exported prohibited American technology to Iran.
Miss Ghodskani has been in jail since her arrest, gave birth in custody, and is now facing up to five years in a US jail after admitting the conspiracy.
Iran previously tried to obtain her release in return for that of Nazanian Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother locked up in Tehran.
That woman is reported to be an academic who once studied at Cambridge and was lecturing in Australia when she was arrested.
Miss King and Mr Firkin were seized as relations between Iran and the West plummet amid tensions around the Gulf of Oman, with sources saying Tehran wants to use them as a bargaining chip.
It is thought Iran wants to use the three prisoners to secure the release of Negar Ghodskani, a 40-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested in Australia in 2017 and currently facing jail in the US over a conspiracy to export prohibited technology.
Persian-language broadcaster Manoto TV revealed the names of the bloggers on Twitter overnight, despite diplomatic efforts to keep them under wraps.
A source told The Times that the Iranian authorities had informed Ms King that she was being detained in hope of a prisoner swap.
At their time of arrest the couple had been travelling overland from one side of the world to the other and documenting their adventure.
The couple had previously said that they wanted to share their journey online to show that countries with a bad reputation are still okay to travel to.
‘Our biggest motivation behind the vlogs is to hopefully inspire anyone wanting to travel, and also try to break the stigma around travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media’, they said in a post.
The couple had been living together in Cottesloe Beach, Perth, having moved in recent years from New South Wales.
The couple uploaded near-daily updates on their adventures to social media until late-June when all of their feeds went silent. They are thought to have been arrested in early July
A blog post penned by the pair when they started their adventure in 2016 says they had been dating for around six years (pictured in Bali in April 2018)
Miss King is believed to hold joint Australia-British citizenship, though her exact connection to the UK is not clear (pictured in Western Australia in August 2017)
The couple had amassed tens of thousands of followers online before their social media feeds went silent following their arrests (Miss King pictured in Bali in April 2018)
The couple detailed their plans to drive from Western Australia to London on a round-the-world trip. Their last posts, uploaded in late June, show them in far north Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, around the mid-point of their adventure
Their adventure first began in the summer of 2017 after they saved up all their money to travel overland in an SUV from Australia to the United Kingdom.
They island-hopped across south east Asia and were toward the middle of their trip, having crossed through scenic Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan.
Inside the infamous Evin jail
Evin prison was built by the former Shah of Iran in 1972 and has a reputation as being used for political repression.
It was later expanded after some political opponents overthrew him and took power in 1979.
The couple were detained in Iran in July amid reports that they were flying a drone near Tehran without a permit. The woman is thought to be locked in Evin jail (pictured)
In the 1980s dissidents and members of the People’s Mujahidin of Iran were hanged there and even today the prison still operates a death row system.
Most prisoners in the jail are high-profile long-term political opponents, and in some cases pawns to be used in bargains with other countries.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still being detained in the prison after she was accused of spying while visiting her parents with her daughter.
Others who have also been jailed for spying include British Iranian businessman Anousheh Ashouri and Amas Amiri, as well as Morad Tabhaz.
The couple arrived in Iran on June 30 and immediately took to social media to update their followers.
In a video message they said: ‘We’re now in Iran and we’re camped on a nice hill here next to the capital Tehran. We just arrived. It’s actually really beautiful.’
The video is no longer on the couple’s YouTube channel and their fans had begun to worry about their long silence.
Four weeks ago, one worried fan posted to Instagram: ‘GUYS WHERE ARE YOU ITS BEEN A MONTH – R U OKAY???’
Another said: ‘Anyone else worried about what happened when they went to China??
‘It’s been over a month and Jodie said they would update us as soon as they got in!’
A third said: ‘Something’s definitely not right’.
The couple had planned return to Perth early next year. Instead, they are awaiting trial in the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian television.
The bloggers’ families said in a statement via Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: ‘Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible.
‘We have no further comment to make at this stage and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time.’
The bureau’s travel advice for Iran is ‘reconsider your need to travel’ and ‘do not travel’ in some parts of the country bordering Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
The travel warning says foreigners are of increased risk of being ‘arbitrarily detained, or arrested’. The Australian government said it is providing consular assistance to the families.
News of their arrest emerged Tuesday, at the same time as it was revealed another British-Australian woman – an academic who studied at Cambridge – has also been locked up. That woman has not yet been identified.
The couple have posted amazing pictures from their account in places such as Cambodia (left) and Pang Oung Lake (right)
All smiles: The couple had been enjoying the new freedom of their life before the incident in Iran
Ms King has posted many photos of their travels such as Suwehan Beach (left) and Kyrgyzstan (right)
It is thought that both Ms King and the other woman are currently being kept at Evin prison in Tehran, the same jail where British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held on spying charges since 2016.
Foreign office warned Iran was looking for political prisoners
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, said he met with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab two weeks ago to warn him of an increase in foreign nationals being detained in Iran as bargaining chips.
‘More people are being taken and the government needs to do a better job at protecting ordinary people from being held and used as chess pieces in this way,’ he told Sky News.
In a message to the families of Ms King and Mr Firkin, he said: ‘My heart goes out to you – it’s a terrible situation to be involved in.’
The arrests come amid heightened tensions between Iran, and Britain and Australia.
Australia only recently announced it would send a warship, surveillance aircraft and 200 trips to counter Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned the Iranian ambassador in London on Wednesday in order to voice ‘serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention.’
It is thought Ms King – a dual national whose mother is believed to live in Australia – is being kept in a ward for female political prisoners.
It was also reported that the unnamed academic is in solitary confinement after she was sentenced to ten years in prison for an unknown offence.
The sentence is common for foreign nationals charged with espionage.
Tulip Siddiq, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Labour MP, told The Times: ‘This terrible news shows a clear escalation of Iran’s hostage diplomacy.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab spoke with the Iranian ambassador on Wednesday and warned of ‘serious concerns’ around detention and treatment of the two women
The blogger has been detained in a ward for female political prisoners where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured), is currently held
Mr Ratcliffe, pictured outside the Iranian embassy in London in June, said Iran must be made to understand that ‘hostage diplomacy is not OK’
‘Soft diplomatic responses to Iran’s illegal and inhumane treatment of British prisoners have been a failure.’
Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, told the paper: ‘I complained to the foreign secretary last week that we’d been seeing an escalation from Iran in recent months, even since our hunger strike, publicly taking Nazanin to hospital in chains and restricting her visits and calls, new big sentences announced for other innocent people, and more British citizens being taken, even non-Iranian.’
He said Iran must be made to understand ‘hostage diplomacy is not OK’ and the UK Government ‘cannot keep sitting quietly by while ordinary people are being taken as bargaining chips’.
Asked about detained Australians, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday the government would ‘continue to pursue these matters in the interests of the Australians at the centre of these cases’.
‘We will do that carefully and we will do that in close consultation through our officials who have been part of this process now for some time,’ he told reporters in Canberra.
Meanwhile Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said she had raised the cases ‘many times’ with her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, including as recently as last week.
‘The government has been making efforts to ensure they are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international norms,’ she said, adding that there was ‘no reason’ to believe the arrests were politically motivated.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to the detained trio and has urged Australians to reconsider travelling to Iran.
Earlier this week, the Australian government updated its travel advice for Iran to ‘reconsider your need to travel’ and ‘do not travel’ to areas near the border with Iraq and Afghanistan.
TRAVEL BLOGGERS’ PLANNED JAUNT AROUND THE WORLD
Mark Firkin and Jolie King with a sign showing their planned overland journey from their ‘humble home’ in Cottesloe, Western Australia to London
In a blog post, the couple said they dreamed up their route so they could ‘visit places we’ve always wanted to see’ and try avoid the wet season.
The couple began from their ‘humble little home’ in Cottesloe, Western Australia, and travelled north across the country to Darwin.
They shuttled over by ship to East Timor (Timor Leste) and drove through Indonesia through to Sumatra, and then on to Malaysia.
They hopped through South East Asia and were working their way through India, Pakistan and central Asia, before arriving in Iran.
They were next planning to transit through to Turkey and on to Europe, where they hoped to drive up to Norway and down to Spain via the French Alps.
‘Mark plans to show Jolie where he spent a winter in the French Alps,’ the post said.
They then hoped to get the train from Calais, France, to the UK. They said: ‘Hopefully we can stretch this trip out as long as possible, as it’s only so often between life’s commitments that we get the chance to spend this much time exploring.’