Australia mum on possible swap of detainees with Iran

October 05, 2019 - 7:06 pm

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia's attorney general on Sunday refused to comment whether a prisoner swap was behind the release of two Australians from Iran in exchange for an Iranian student who was facing extradition to the United States.

The couple, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, returned to Australia on Saturday after all charges against them were dropped. They spent almost three months in Tehran's notorious Evin prison after they were arrested for flying a drone near a military zone without a license.

At the same time, Iran's state TV reported that an Iranian scientist, Reza Dehbashi, who was detained for 13 months in Australia for purchasing a defense system for his country from the United States, had returned home.

Dehbashi had been a research student at the University of Queensland.

Attorney General Christian Porter confirmed that Dehbashi would not be extradited to the United States but refused to comment on an apparent swap.

"The Australian government does not comment on the details behind its consideration of particular cases," he said in a statement.

"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," he said.

Before their arrest, the couple from Perth had been globe-trotting for two years and documenting their travels on Instagram and YouTube.

"We are extremely happy and relieved to be safely back in Australia with those we love," they said in a statement Saturday. "While the past few months have been very difficult, we know it has also been tough for those back home who have been worried for us."

They thanked the Australian government for helping secure their release.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said her government continued to seek the return of a third Australian, Melbourne University lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been in detention since October 2018.

Payne described her situation as "very complex."

"She has been detained for some considerable time, and has faced the Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced," Payne said, adding the government did not accept the spying charges against her.