Sometimes a country’s “bad rep” is entirely justified. Iran is no place for a holiday. It is a rogue nation, a leading state sponsor of terrorism and human rights abuser that has earned its ”axis of evil” title.
The people are by and large lovely, the historic sites are breathtaking, the natural beauty is stunning but the regime is rotten to the core and no amount of equivocation will change that.
I resigned myself long ago to the fact that I will never again see some family members or the many sites of my ancestral home.
Unless a regime change disrupts the reign of the mullahs who took charge after the Islamic Revolution, Iran will remain a danger to the region, to the world and to its citizens and visitors.
Australian travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin, who are locked in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, had posted about their desire to challenge some of the preconceptions about travelling to countries like Iran. The couple wrote: “Our biggest motivation behind the vlogs is to hopefully inspire anyone wanting to travel. And also try to break the stigma around travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”
Both have been locked up in Iran for about 10 weeks reportedly on charges of flying a drone without a licence. Some of the images the couple have posted during their marathon travel appear to show drone footage for aerial shots. Pouria Zeraati, of Persian-language broadcaster Manoto TV tweeted: “Before Iran, they had travelled to Pakistan and China … Their trial has not yet taken place and it is unclear why the authorities have not yet informed the court.”
The couple left Australia to travel in 2017. Their adventures were documented on their YouTube channel, The Way Overland. The last video posted to more than 20,000 subscribers was on June 26, titled: ‘GET TO PAKISTAN NOW!! — AUSSIES DRIVING PAKISTAN’.
Melbourne University academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is also in Evin prison and has reportedly been sentenced to 10 years prison on spying charges.
After months of secrecy there was public confirmation from Iran on Wednesday that the academic was in custody. A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said: “I don’t know about three (Australian) citizens. There is one I know about last year who was arrested because of spying for a foreign enemy government, but I don’t know about the other two.”
There are suspicions her arrest was a tactic by the regime to pressure Australia for a prisoner swap. Australian authorities and Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family chose to keep her incarceration secret for close to a year to maximise her chances of release. The Iranians would not like to “lose face” by releasing a prisoner they have convicted of being a spy.
Sadly for Dr Moore-Gilbert, the regime is paranoid and willing to lock up people on trumped-up charges. There are at least another 30 foreigners and dual nationals jailed under similar circumstances.
Dr Moore-Gilbert has spent almost a year in solitary confinement in terrible conditions. Those who have survived Evin prison speak of being subjected to physical and psychological torment.
Richard Ratcliffe knows about the inhumane conditions in Evin. His wife, Nazanin, is also locked up there on trumped-up charges.
“They are practised at managing a hostage for a long time,” Mr Ratcliffe said. “Nazanin was in there for eight and a half months; goodness me, did she have scars when she came out.
“Kylie has been there longer, that in … itself is torture. The Australian government … are all going to be meeting at the UN next week … They should be extracting a promise from President Rouhani that he’s going to make sure she gets out of solitary.”
Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family have released a statement saying: “We have been and continue to be in close contact with the Australian government. Our family thanks the government and the University of Melbourne for their ongoing support at this distressing and sensitive time. We believe that the best chance of securing Kylie’s safe return is through diplomatic channels.”
In other developments, we’ve seen Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard seize another vessel this week near the Strait of Hormuz, days after Iranian-backed militants attacked Saudi Arabian oil refineries.
In July the Iranians seized a British ship in the same region which led to Australia backing its British and US allies in committing to a “modest, meaningful and time-limited” contribution to counter Iran’s “destabilising behaviour”.
Despite the PR efforts to paint the current Iranian regime as “moderate”, it is as backward and brutal as any since the Islamic Revolution.
It murders its own citizens, killing even juveniles who have been tortured into making confessions.
Iran was once a relatively modern and secular nation but has regressed into tyranny and fundamentalism. It is no place for a tourist.
Rita Panahi is a Herald Sun columnist