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Australia lobbies for release of three citizens held by Iran

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she met last week with her Iranian counterpart, seeking to secure release of three citizens held by Tehran.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Tuesday confirmed two British-Australian women and the Australian boyfriend of one of them had been jailed in Iran. The detentions threaten to inflame tensions between the West and Tehran.

DFAT named two of the detainees as Australian Mark Firkin and British-Australian Jolie King. Australia did not name the third dual-national or release any further detail on the people or the reason for their arrests.

While the detentions were confirmed in recent days, Payne said late on Thursday the Australian government had been working on securing the release of the three for more than a week.

Payne said she travelled to Bangladesh last week to meet Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the detention of the three people.

Payne declined to reveal specific details of the talks.

“The government has been making efforts to ensure they are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international norms,” Payne told the Australian senate.

Firkin and King were arrested about 10 weeks ago, British newspaper The Times said.

All three are being held in the same prison in Tehran where a British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been jailed since 2016 on spying charges, The Times reported.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab on Wednesday raised concerns with the Iranian ambassador to Britain over the number of dual-nationality citizens detained in Iran and the conditions in which they were being held.

(Reporting by Colin Packham)

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