Two British-Australian women detained in Iran as tensions rise | World news

Two British-Australian women and another foreign national, also believed to be Australian, have been detained in Iran, the Guardian understands.

The Times of London has reported a blogger who was travelling through Asia with her Australian boyfriend, and an academic who studied at Cambridge University and has been working at a university in Australia, were seized in separate incidents.

The two women are believed to be currently held at the Evin prison in Tehran, where 41-year-old British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been incarcerated on spying charges since 2016.

BBC Persian has also reported a woman and her Australian partner were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for camping in a military area around Jajrood in Tehran province.

The British Foreign Office declined to comment.

The arrests come amid increasing tensions between Australia, Britain, the United States and Iran. In August, the Australia prime minister, Scott Morrison, said Australia would join a US-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz.

In August Morrison said Australia would send forces to the Middle East because “destabilising behaviour” in the Gulf was a threat to Australian interests.

Australia’s foreign affairs department officially recommends citizens reconsider their need to travel to Iran, citing a “risk of arbitrary detention or arrest”.

“There is a risk that foreigners, including Australians, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran,” the Department of Foreign Affairs advice states.

“We can’t guarantee consular access if you are detained or arrested. We also can’t guarantee access to legal representation.”

University of Melbourne academic Meimanat Hosseini Chavoshi, an Australian-Iranian dual national, was detained in Iran in December last year after being accused of “social espionage” and “collaborating” with the west.

However, the latest incidents are thought to be the first time British passport holders who do not have Iranian nationality have been imprisoned in Tehran in recent years.

Tulip Siddiq, the British MP who represents Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, said: “Iran have raised the stakes again and shown the UK’s soft diplomatic responses to Iran’s illegal and inhumane treatment of British prisoners has not worked. This is a wake-up call for the prime minister and the government to act urgently to bring our innocent citizens home.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since being arrested while visiting relatives in April 2016. The regime accused her of working to “spread propaganda against Iran”, a charge she has strenuously and consistently denied.

Boris Johnson, then the foreign secretary, was severely criticised over his handling of the case after he erroneously told the Commons that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism while in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was accused by Tehran’s prosecutor general of running a “BBC Persian online journalism course, which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran”.

She briefly worked for BBC Media Action, the corporation’s international development charity, but had left more than five years before her arrest. At that time, she was working as a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, which has made clear she is not employed as a journalist and was in the country solely in a personal capacity.

Johnson later corrected his mistake but it was used against her in court. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison and has suffered from mental and physical health problems during her incarceration.

Last month her relatives said she and her fellow inmates in the notorious Evin prison had been placed under a strict new regime, meaning their visiting rights were restricted and they were no longer allowed to make international calls.

Another Evin detainee whose case has made headline is Aras Amiri, an Iranian who has permanent resident status in Britain. She lost her appeal last month against a 10-year jail sentence in Tehran after being accused of spying for the UK while she was visiting a sick relative last year.

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