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Three citizens of Australia are being held in Iran, the Australian government confirmed Wednesday, at a time of rising tensions between Tehran and Western nations over the imperiled 2015 accord limiting Iran's nuclear program.

The Australian government said it was providing consular assistance to the families of those detained, and it reminded travelers that they risk arbitrary detention when visiting Iran. The government provided no other details, citing privacy requirements.

The Times of London, which first reported the detentions, said the three people jailed were a British-Australian blogger, her Australian boyfriend and a British-Australian academic.

The newspaper said the couple were taken into custody about 10 weeks ago, and the scholar was detained earlier and had since been sentenced to a decade in prison on unknown charges.

The paper reported that the blogger and the academic were being held at Evin Prison in Tehran, in the same ward that houses female prisoners such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who was detained in 2016 on charges of spying.

The British government said in a statement Wednesday that its foreign secretary met with the Iranian ambassador and raised "serious questions" about dual citizens detained in Iran. It gave no information about specific cases.

In April, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif publicly proposed a prisoner exchange with the United States, and he raised the cases of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and an Iranian woman being held in Australia. Iran has detained several dual and foreign citizens in recent years, including at least four Americans.

"We have an Iranian lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison," Zarif said during a discussion at a think tank in New York, adding that the case involved the purchase of transmission equipment for an Iranian broadcasting company.

"That's her charge," he added. "She has been lingering in an Australian jail for the past three years."

He said the U.S. had requested that the woman be extradited and that Washington had not responded to the Iranian overtures on a prisoner swap.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and the West after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions last year. In July, Britain and Gibraltar seized an Iranian ship that they accused of carrying oil to Syria, and Iran retaliated by detaining a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The family of Zaghari-Ratcliffe confirmed that she and the British-Australian blogger were being held in the same ward at Evin Prison. The blogger left solitary confinement a few weeks ago, the family said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, had lived in London for more than a decade before she was detained in Tehran while trying to return to Britain; she had been in Iran visiting relatives with her young daughter.

At the time, she was a program director at the Thomson Reuters Foundation -- a charity independent of the media conglomerate Thomson Reuters. She was accused of plotting to overthrow Iran's government. Her family and the foundation have denied the charge.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the British Foreign Office had not given the family information about the other British citizens being held. But he said the families and their representatives in Parliament were pressing for a joint meeting with Dominic Raab, Britain's foreign secretary.

"The U.K. government needs to be transparent about what is going on and its responsibility to protect its citizens," Ratcliffe said in an emailed statement. "And it needs to work better with other affected countries -- so that the Iranian government truly understands this practice has to stop. Hostage diplomacy is not OK."

A Section on 09/12/2019

Print Headline: 3 Australians detained in Iran

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