Two Australian travel bloggers who were jailed in Iran this winter for flying a drone without a licence have been released and are reportedly back in Australia. The Australian government isn’t saying whether the two were swapped for an Iranian prisoner in Australia, but the timing of their release would suggest that’s precisely what happened.
Jolie King and Mark Firkin, both from Perth, Australia, quit their jobs in July of 2017 and set out to travel the world and document their adventures across 36 countries on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram under the name “The Way Overland.” They have not posted any new content since their release.
King and Firkin were financing their trip through the crowdfunding tool Patreon but were arrested this winter in Tehran after using a camera-equipped drone near a military installation, according to the Iranian government. They were reportedly held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, a frequent site of torture and executions.
The Guardian reports that the Australian nationals were released around the same time that a 38-year-old doctoral student at the University of Queensland and Iranian national named Reza Dehbashi Kivi had been released from detention in Australia. Kivi was accused of trying to export U.S.-made radar equipment to Iran, a violation of U.S. sanctions against the Iranian government. Dehbashi Kivi had been in jail since September and was fighting extradition to the U.S.
From the Guardian:
The US sought to have him extradited on six charges, including conspiring to export special amplifiers classified on the US munitions list as “defence articles”, and of “aiding and abetting in the exportation of defence articles from the United States to Iran”.
Dehbashi Kivi faced up to 20 years in prison. During a failed application for bail, he told the Brisbane magistrates court he was a PhD student researching the development of a machine to detect skin cancers.
Some Australian media outlets have insisted that Dehbashi Kivi wouldn’t have been swapped for King and Firkin without approval from Washington, D.C. but it’s unclear if the Trump regime knew about the possible deal. Either way, the Australian government isn’t saying that there was even a quid pro quo.
“The Australian Government does not comment on the details behind its consideration of particular cases,” Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter told the national broadcaster over the weekend.
“And while it is likely that because of Mr Dehbashi Kivi’s nationality some will speculate regarding this matter, consistent with prior practice I do not intend to comment further on the particular details of this case, particularly when any such response from me may diminish our Government’s capacity to deal with future matters of this type in Australia’s best interests.”
Another Australian, academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert with the University of Melbourne, is still in an Iranian prison after being convicted of spying. Moore-Gilbert is serving 10 years.