Travel Bloggers Face Decade In Jail For Flying Drone In Iran
They wanted to see the world and end the stigma around travelling to ‘dangerous countries’. Now, two travel bloggers could face 10 years in an Iranian prison after flying a drone near Tehran without a licence.
British-Australian building designer Jolie King and Australian construction manager Mark Firkin are currently detained after being arrested in July.
The pair had travelled to the Middle East as part of a globe-trotting driving expedition. They had been documenting their journey online since they started in Western Australia, and were due to finish off in London.
After saving up plenty of money, they kicked off their trip in 2017, writing in an Instagram post: ‘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.’
In July the couple were arrested and detained for flying a drone near Tehran without a licence. They could face a decade in prison.
The couple’s families tried to allay authorities’ concerns on Thursday (September 12), saying the whole situation was a ‘misunderstanding’ and they were simply unaware of the country’s strict drone laws.
As per the MailOnline, the 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.
As well as the travelling couple, the Australian government says it is assisting the family of another detainee in Iran: a second, unnamed British-Australian woman reported to be an academic who once studied at Cambridge and was lecturing in Australia when she was arrested.
However, it appears there is more at play than a permit violation: King and Ferkin were arrested as tensions around the Gulf of Oman have seen Iran and the West’s relations plummet. According to the MailOnline, sources say Tehran want to use the detainees as a bargaining chip.
A possible aim could be for the Iranian government to secure the release of Negar Ghodskani, 40, who was arrested in Australia in 2017 before being extradited to the US after accusations of exporting prohibited American technology to Iran.
A source reportedly told The Times that King was told by Iranian authorities that her arrest was part of a plan to secure Ghodskani, who has been in jail since her arrest, even giving birth while in custody. She is facing up to five years in prison.
It wouldn’t be the first time Iranian officials tried to swap a prisoner for Ghodskani: they previously offered up Nazanian Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother also locked up in Tehran.
After crossing through Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan, the couple arrived in Iran on June 30. In a YouTube video, the pair 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.’
However, the video is no longer online. As their social media silence grew longer, keen followers started to take notice. One user wrote: ‘Something’s definitely not right.’
King and the other woman – who is reportedly in solitary confinement after being sentenced to ten years in prison for an unknown offence – are being held in Evin prison in Tehran; the same institution Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in on spying charges since 2006.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, met with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab two weeks ago to warn him of Iran’s increasing use of hostage diplomacy.
As reported by Sky News, Richard said:
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 said Iran must be made to understand ‘hostage diplomacy is not okay’ and the UK Government ‘cannot keep sitting quietly by while ordinary people are being taken as bargaining chips’.
In response to the growing concerns, Raab summoned the Iranian ambassador in London on Wednesday (September 11) in order to voice ‘serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention.’
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday (September 12) the government would ‘continue to pursue these matters in the interests of the Australians at the centre of these cases’.
As per the MailOnline, Morrison told reporters in Canberra: ‘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.’
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