Two Australian travel bloggers have been arrested in Iran for flying a hobby drone without a permit. The bloggers often take photos with their drone and publish them to social media, but the couple disappeared from the internet in June after posting from Pakistan.
The bloggers, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, operate the website The Way Overland, which also has YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. The bloggers quit their jobs in July 2017 and started traveling the world with the goal of visiting 36 countries via an overland route from Australia to the UK. They support their travels through donations to their Patreon page.
Followers of their social media accounts had no idea what had happened to the couple until Pouria Zeraati, editor-in-chief of the Persian-language media outlet Manoto News, reported on Wednesday that they were being held. Their trial has not yet taken place, according to Zeraati. The couple were reportedly arrested in July but their identities were only revealed by Zeraati this week since the Iranian government has not yet acknowledged the arrests.
The couple’s permanent residence is Cottesloe, Western Australia, a suburb of Perth, though King is originally from the UK and holds a British passport. Both King and Firkin have been traveling on Australian passports, according to the Guardian.
The couple were arrested near Iran’s capital city of Tehran and are being held in the notorious Evin prison, according to Zeraati’s Twitter feed. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was held at the same prison for almost two years and has described being tortured with the constant threat of death from his captors. The prison regularly uses prolonged solitary confinement, a punishment deemed to be torture by human rights activists. Iran, which is believed to execute the most people of any nation per capita, kills hundreds of prisoners every year, according to Amnesty International.
The couple’s regular readers have expressed concern for the couple, and some who have randomly met the couple on their journey across the world have showed their support.
One Instagram comment posted on Friday reads:
We met these guys a couple of years back in Northern Territory. Lovely genuine people. Our thoughts are with you. Hope you get back home soon
But there has also been plenty of criticism by commenters who say that the couple should have known better about flying a hobby drone in Iran.
As another commenter on Instagram said today:
These instagramers are a disgrace. No care about the laws, regulations or culture of the countries they are actually visiting. I visited Iran a few years back and its one of my favourite countries I’ve ever been too. But it doesn’t take a genius to release you don’t fuck around in those countries. Flying a drone new Tehran is just plain stupid. Flying a drone without permission in any country can result in a jail term so I hope they are locked up for at least a while so they can reflect on how stupid they have been.
There have also been plenty of trolls, doing what trolls do, and sending hateful messages on their various accounts.
Experts who have spoken to Australian media outlets warn that it’s possible the couple could be detained indefinitely, even though the Australian government is reportedly working to get them released.
“Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible,” the couple’s families said in a joint statement obtained by the Australian newspaper.
“We have no further comment to make at this stage and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time.”