Jolie King and Mark Firkin, an Australian couple who was reportedly arrested in Iran 10 weeks ago for reportedly flying a drone near the capital, are being held in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison. The pair have been blogging about their travel adventures since 2017 when they set off to drive from Australia to London.
Firkin and King, who also holds a British passport, have joined another Australian being held in Evin prison, reportedly in solitary confinement. The woman, an academic, was arrested last year and she has since been tried, though the charges are unknown. She was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The Australian government has been negotiating for the release of all three prisoners since they were arrested. The families of Firkin and King released a statement saying, “Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible.”
The editor of the Persian-language Manoto TV, Pouria Zeraati, tweeted that a source had told him the couple had been arrested “for flying a drone near the capital, Tehran.” Earlier reports stated the couple had been camping in a military area around Jajrood in Tehran province. The two have blogged about their experiences on YouTube and Instagram with dozens of videos and photographs seemingly shot using a drone.
“The family says this was a misunderstanding and Jolie King and her fiancé Mark Firkin were unaware of the Iranian law which bans drone flights without a license,” Zeraati said online. “Their trial has not been held yet and it is not clear what the Islamic Republic [of Iran] wants out of this arrest, as no one from the judiciary or intelligence services has made any comment on this.”
King, a building designer, and Firkin, a construction manager, have documented their world travels on a blog called The Way Overland. The couple has posted that their plan was to drive from the Perth suburb of Cottlesloe, their hometown, to London in a Toyota Landcruiser that had been converted into a camper.
King and Firkin began driving north to Darwin, where they shipped their car to Timor-Leste. They then drove through Indonesia, shipped the car to Malaysia and drove up through south-east Asia, India and Pakistan. The couple had been posting weekly videos to YouTube and social media. Followers expressed concerns after their posts ceased to appear.
Their last post from the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan appeared on social media on June 26. Their last video was posted on June 25 from Pakistan as they were driving on the Karakoram Highway. After June 30, their social media updates seemed to stop.
The Australian government has issued travel advice for Iran warning, “There is a risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran. We can’t guarantee consular access if you are detained or arrested. We also can’t guarantee access to legal representation.” The advice also recommends not visiting military or nuclear sites, which, it says, “are not always clearly marked”.
The UK’s defense secretary Ben Wallace, said on Thursday, “The message to Iran is to follow the international rule of law, to respect freedom of navigation in the Straits, and to release people that have been detained in the way they have been over the last few years.”
So far, Iran has not acknowledged or commented on the arrests, though in the past the nation has expressed a willingness to exchange foreign prisoners for Iranian citizens being held in foreign jails. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations between Iran and Australia are relatively good despite tensions with other nations.