Australian and British dual nationals detained in Iran

Police officers patrol Iran's parliament building in Tehran, Iran. (AP file photo)
Updated 13 September 2019

Australian and British dual nationals detained in Iran

CANBERRA: Two women who are dual British-Australian citizens and an Australian man have been detained in Iran, one of them sentenced to 10 years in prison, Australia's government and media said Wednesday.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to the families of all three.
The department also urged Australians to follow its travel advice, which includes a warning that foreigners risk arbitrary detention in Iran.
A British-Australian blogger and her Australian boyfriend were detained 10 weeks ago while traveling through Asia, The Times newspaper in London reported.
A British-Australian academic who studied at Cambridge University and was lecturing at an Australian university was detained separately and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the newspaper reported. The newspaper said she was being held in solitary confinement but it did not know what she had been convicted of doing.
The lecturer has been behind bars for almost a year, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
The Australian government have not released names.
The three are held in Tehran's Evin prison, where British Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, has been detained since 2016 on spying charges, the newspaper reported.
The women are thought to be the first British passport holders who do not also have Iranian nationality to have been imprisoned by Tehran in recent years, the newspaper said.
The blogger was being held in the same ward for female political prisoners as Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the newspaper reported.
Iranian authorities told the blogger she was being held as part of a plan to facilitate a prisoner swap with Australia.
The couple were in Iran as part of a trip that started in Australia three years ago, the paper reported.
ABC reported the two cases were not connected.
There was no immediate comment Wednesday from Iranian officials, nor state media. Cases involving dual nationals typically end up in closed-door hearings of Iran's Revolutionary Court, where former detainees say they had no opportunity to defend themselves against spying charges or offer evidence.
Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran long have said hard-liners in the Islamic Republic's security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. A UN panel in 2018 described "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals" in Iran, which Tehran denied.
A prisoner exchange in January 2016 that freed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans also saw the U.S. make a $400 million cash delivery to Iran the same day, which involved money from a weapons sale in the era of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Several British nationals with Iranian backgrounds are similarly held as Iran and Britain have been discussing the possible release of some £400 million held by London since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for a tank purchase that never happened.
It's unclear what Australia would offer in return, though the 2016 prisoner swap saw Iranians held in the U.S. similarly released. Several Americans remain held in Iran now as well.
Detentions of those with Western ties have spiked in the past around sensitive times in Iran. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. remain high over Tehran's unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from over a year ago. Recently, Iran has broken the deal's limits on enrichment, its uranium stockpile and the use of advanced centrifuges, trying to pressure Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the international market despite U.S. sanctions.
Australia has advised its citizens to "reconsider your need to travel" to Iran, the highest warning on a four-tier scale after "do not travel" to a country.
Britain and Australia last month signed onto a U.S.-led maritime security mission to protect international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran's recent seizures of vessels has raised tensions with the West.


Outsider, jailed tycoon top Tunisian presidential vote

Updated 4 sec ago

Outsider, jailed tycoon top Tunisian presidential vote

  • The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living
  • The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes

TUNIS, Tunisia: A jailed media magnate and an independent outsider appeared likely to face off in Tunisia’s presidential runoff, after a roller coaster first-round race in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings.

Official preliminary results are expected in the next couple of days from Sunday’s voting, in which corruption, unemployment and Islamic extremism were among key campaign issues. A second-round vote is expected by Oct. 13, the electoral commission chief said.

An exit poll by agency Sigma Conseil forecast what would be a surprising result: A top showing of 19.5% for independent Rais Saied, a constitutional law professor without a party.

Tycoon Nabil Karoui, jailed since last month on money laundering and tax evasion charges, was predicted to come in second with 15.5%, according to the poll.

Karoui’s supporters quickly declared victory, and his wife Salwa said his legal team is pushing for his release as soon as Monday. She read a letter he wrote from jail in which he said the apparent results reflected “the Tunisian people’s wish to see change, to say no to injustice, no to poverty, no to marginalization and yes to a fair state.”

The polling agency projected the candidate of moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, Abdelfattah Mourou, would come in third, followed by Defense Minister Abdeldrim Zbidi and then Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who had been considered a top contender.

Sigma Conseil said it questioned 38,900 people at 778 of Tunisia’s 4,554 polling stations, spread out over 27 of the country’s 33 regions. It claimed the poll had a margin of error of 1%.

The electoral commission announced that overall turnout was a relatively low 45%. If no candidate wins more than 50% of Sunday’s vote, the election goes to a second round. The exact date of the runoff will be announced once the final first-round results are declared.

Both Saied and Karoui promised to fight unemployment, a key problem in Tunisia that also helped drive its 2011 revolution.

Saied has no political background but notably picked up support among young voters with his straightforward, anti-system image and constitutional law background. Corruption frustrates many voters, which might have increased the appeal of an outsider candidate.

Karoui meanwhile positioned himself as the candidate of the poor, notably using his TV network to raise money for charity. His arrest appears to have mobilized voters in the struggling provinces or those who feel sidelined in the Tunisian economy. Karoui was allowed to remain in the race because he has not been convicted.

The voting followed a noisy but brief campaign — 12 days — marked by backbiting and charges of corruption among the contenders. All vowed to boost the country’s flagging economy and protect it from further deadly attacks by Islamist extremists.

Tunisia is in many ways an exception in the Arab world, with its budding democracy lurching forward despite challenges. Some 6,000 Tunisian and international observers, including from the European Union and the United States, monitored the vote.

More than 100,000 security forces were on guard Sunday as 7 million registered voters were called to the polls. Military surveillance was especially tight in border regions near Algeria and Libya where Islamist extremists are active.

Sunday’s election follows the death in office in July of the nation’s first democratically elected leader, Beji Caid Essebsi. His widow, Chadlia Saida Farhat, died Sunday at age 83, as Tunisians were voting.

This is only the second democratic presidential election that Tunisia has seen since the 2011 popular uprising brought down autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered uprisings across the Arab world.

“The most important thing is that the vote be transparent ... and reflect the choice of voters,” said retired journalist Radhia Ziadi, alluding to the days when Ben Ali won election after election with well over 90% of the votes.

Tunis voter Sonia Juini summed up the overall sentiment as she cast her ballot, expressing hope the new president would make Tunisia more secure and “improve living conditions and take care of marginalized areas.”

Tunisia is also holding its parliamentary election on Oct. 6, another challenge since the new president’s success will depend on having support in parliament.