Australian travel vloggers, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, have been detained indefinitely in Iran for flying a drone without a licence in a military area.
The Perth couple’s online postings went silent in June, and it emerged they were arrested in July and are currently held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.
King and Firkin run a blog, YouTube and Instagram account called ‘The Way Overland’, where they document their trip driving from Western Australia to London. They have been travelling since June 2017, shipping their vehicle from the Northern Territory to Timor L’este and making their way through Central Asia through to Iran, with plans to hit Turkey, and on to Europe.
They raise money through Patreon, a crowdfunding platform for creators, and raise almost $300 per YouTube episode. The couple have made 60 videos, and have 23,000 subscribers on YouTube and 19,300 followers on Instagram. Drone footage is a staple in their content.
Ironically, the goal of their vlog is to ‘inspire anyone wanting to travel, and also try to break the stigma around travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media’. – Being holed up in an Iranian prison would seem to run counter to both those goals!
The Islamic Republic of Iran receives a pretty bad rap in the Western media. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs travel advisory website, Smart Traveller, recommends travellers ‘reconsider’ visiting Iran. Not only is there a ‘volatile security situation’ across several borders, but also ‘civil unrest’ and ‘political violence’.
Crucially, the Smart Traveller website says ‘unauthorised use of drones is illegal’, and visitors should not ‘visit military areas… which are not clearly marked’.
Iran also enforces laws that may appear harsh compared to Australia and other Western countries.
‘You may be at greater risk if you have a profile that could be seen adversely by, or if you undertake certain activities which could attract the attention of, Iranian authorities. These may include undertaking study or academic activity, travel off the beaten track, being present near crowds or sensitive sites, taking photographs (except in major tourist sites), having contact with Iranians who are of interest to the authorities, or behaviour that could be perceived in Iran to cause religious offence or as anti-Iranian.’
Basically, tourists in Iran have to be extremely careful about their behaviour. The Australian government cannot easily bail someone out if they land in hot water.
Jolie King’s family told The Australian the incident is a ‘misunderstanding’, and the couple were unaware of the Iranian law regarding drones. While their trial has not been held, according to Persian news outlet Manoto TV, the Iranian government is attempting to arrange a prisoner swap.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the prisoners’ families, and is attempting to negotiate their release. A big problem is the prisoner Iran is seeking from Australia faces extradition to the ‘Great Satan’ USA for evading American economic sanctions, by exporting ‘controlled technology’ to Iran.
‘These are always very sensitive cases. They are never issues that are addressed well by offering public commentary on them and I note that in at least one of these cases that is a view that has been expressed by family members,’ Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said. ‘We will continue to pursue these matters in the interests of the Australians at the centre of these cases and we will do that carefully and in close consultation through our officials who have been part of this process now for some time.’