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Australians Back Home After Likely Prisoner Swap With Iran

Video from Iranian TV shows Reza Dehbashi Kivi after his return from Australia.

Australian travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin arrived back at their home in Perth after months in an Iranian jail following what appears to have been a likely prisoner swap with Tehran.

Australian authorities confirmed on October 6 that, on the same day Tehran freed the couple from detention, they released an Iranian academic who had been held for more than a year in Queensland.

Australia had detained 38-year-old Reza Dehbashi Kivi, a cancer researcher at Queensland University, in September 2018 after the United States issued an extradition request over allegations he had conspired to export electronic military devices to Iran.

Attorney General Christian Porter said in a statement that Canberra decided against the U.S. extradition request after considering "all the circumstances of this particular case."

"My decision was made in accordance with the requirements of Australian domestic legal processes and is completely consistent with the powers provided to the commonwealth attorney general under our law," Porter said.

Despite the timing, Porter did not confirm it was a prisoner swap.

He said that, while there was likely to be speculation about an exchange, “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."

The Iranian state-run IRIB news agency reported that Dehbashi Kivi returned to Tehran on October 5, accompanied by the Iranian ambassador to Australia.

Iranian state TV showed footage of Dehbashi Kivi arriving at Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport and hugging a tearful woman, apparently from his family.

It said Dehbashi Kivi had been working on a "skin cancer detection device" at the time of his arrest and that he had denied the charges as "a misunderstanding" and "unfair."

Australian travel bloggers Mark Firkin and Jolie King (file photo)
Australian travel bloggers Mark Firkin and Jolie King (file photo)

Firkin and King, who were arrested in July, were freed following "very sensitive negotiations" with Tehran, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in Canberra early on October 5.

Firkin and fiancee King were arrested in July and were alleged to have used a drone to take pictures of military sites, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was quoted by the judiciary-affiliated Mizan news agency as saying last month.

The couple had been documenting their journey on social media the past two years before the arrest.

The arrests Iran came at a time of increased tensions between Iran and Western countries over a number of issues, including Iran's decision to reduce its nuclear commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.

In recent years, several foreigners and dual nationals have been jailed in Iran on espionage charges.

Iranian authorities have not provided any solid evidence to back their claims

The Australian government is, meanwhile, trying to secure the release of another Australian held in Iran, Melbourne University lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been in jail for more than a year.

Foreign Minister Payne said her case was "very complex" as she has been convicted by an Iranian court and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Payne told reporters on October 5 that the Canberra government does not accept the charges upon which she was convicted, and is seeking to have her returned to Australia.

With reporting by dpa and AP
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