British-Australian women latest detainees in Iran's 'hostage diplomacy'

An Iranian inmate peers from behind a wall as a guard walks by at the female section of the infamous Evin jail

The Foreign Office said it was clear the ship's cargo had been transferred to the Assad regime in an "unacceptable violation" of worldwide trade sanctions.

It is thought that both women are now being kept at Evin prison in Tehran, the same jail where British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held on spying charges since 2016.

The family of the blogger and her partner say their arrest is a misunderstanding and they were unaware that flying a drone in Iran requires a permit.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the families of three Australians detained in Iran".

While there are no exact figures on the number of detainees with British links being held in Iran, these are at least some of those who are understood to be incarcerated as part of Iran's "hostage diplomacy".

While the charges against the second woman, a Cambridge-educated academic, remain unclear, 10-year terms are often handed down in Iran for spying charges.

Citing its "privacy obligation", the department said that it would not be releasing any additional information following the initial statement.

"The pattern of arresting foreign nationals in Iran is becoming increasingly alarming".

They started their journey in Australia about three years ago and followers of their accounts have posted concerns about their recent silence.

The detentions have come amid a growing standoff between Western powers and Iran after the United States withdrew from a deal that imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear program and then imposed sanctions on it, aiming to halt its oil exports.

About two dozen holders of overseas passports have been arrested since the nuclear accord was signed, official Iranian news reports show, with around 11 of those taken into custody in the past 18 months, a period that largely overlaps with the USA restoration of sweeping economic sanctions on Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, told the Times: "I complained to the foreign secretary last week that we'd been seeing an escalation from Iran in recent months, even since our hunger strike, publicly taking Nazanin to hospital in chains and restricting her visits and calls, new big sentences announced for other innocent people, and more British citizens being taken, even non-Iranian".

Several British nationals with Iranian backgrounds are similarly held as Iran and Britain have been discussing the possible release of some 400 million pounds held by London since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for a tank purchase that never happened.

A few weeks later Iran seized a British oil tanker for alleged marine violations, Reuters reported.

Middle East Eye had reported exclusively on Friday that the supertanker had offloaded to a port in the country.

The British Foreign Office has declined to comment as Australia is leading the two cases.

The department's travel advice is now set to "reconsider your need to travel".

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