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Iran Releases Two Australians Accused of Using Drone to Spy

Jason Scott

(Bloomberg) -- Two Australians accused of spying in Iran have been released after about three months in detention and will return home, while a third remains incarcerated.

Mark Firkin and Jolie King thanked the government for securing their release in a statement Saturday from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They had been posting their journey through South Asia and the Middle East when they were detained by Iranian authorities for allegedly using a drone to take footage of a military site.

The pair said they didn’t want to comment further, noting that others remain in detention and “intense media coverage may not be helpful for efforts to bring them home.”

Iran’s often competing intelligence agencies have a long record of targeting Iranians with dual nationality as well as foreign nationals, detaining them on vague security charges and then using them to gain leverage in negotiations with Western countries, often over financial and political disputes. Australia announced in August it would join a U.S.-led coalition to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz as tensions between Iran and the West escalated.

Negotiations are continuing to secure the freedom of a third Australian detained in Iran, Melbourne-based university lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

“She has been detained for some considerable time and has faced the Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced,” she said, adding that Australia doesn’t accept the charges against her.

In a travel advisory for Iran, Australia warns of a risk of foreigners being arbitrarily detained or arrested in the nation.

Iran’s history of detaining foreign nationals has been condemned by human rights groups as akin to hostage-taking, and there’s evidence its use has increased as Iranian authorities fight back against a U.S.-led economic offensive.

American sanctions are steadily collapsing the 2015 nuclear deal which ended the Islamic Republic’s isolation. European efforts led by France to save the accord are foundering, while the tit-for-tat seizing by U.K. and Iranian forces of oil tankers sparked a diplomatic storm between the two.

--With assistance from Natnicha Chuwiruch.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Jeff Sutherland, Siraj Datoo

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