Declaring that Australia’s strategy of quiet diplomacy with Iran had failed, friends of a British-Australian academic jailed on spying charges launched a public campaign on Thursday to win her freedom.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an academic and expert on Islamic studies is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran for espionage, a charge she has strenuously denied.
Now, a group of friends and colleagues are demanding that Canberra do more to resolve the situation.
The “Free Kylie” group said it had respected the Australian foreign ministry’s guidance to “remain quiet” and allow diplomats to do their work.
“But we believe that this strategy on its own has failed,” they said, adding the policy had made “little headway in improving her day-to-day living conditions, let alone securing her release”.
This week she was moved from a jail in Tehran to a notorious women’s prison in an old chicken-processing factory outside the capital.
Blacklisted under US human rights sanctions, Qarchak prison has become a byword for the ill-treatment of political prisoners and is described as filthy and coronavirus-ridden by non-governmental groups.
“The quarantine unit… holds all kinds of criminals, including those convicted of murder and drug and financial offences,” said the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Moore-Gilbert was reportedly arrested at Tehran airport by Iran’s hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in September 2018 after attending a conference in Qoms.
“Please, I beg of you to do whatever it takes to get me out,” Moore-Gilbert wrote in a June 2019 letter to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The Cambridge graduate said in a separate letter that she had been on hunger strike five times, while unconfirmed reports said she had attempted suicide.
Australia’s foreign ministry this week said her case remained one of its “highest priorities, including for our embassy officials in Tehran”.
In an unusually strongly-worded statement, the department also warned it would “hold Iran responsible for Dr Moore-Gilbert’s safety and well-being”.
Prisoner and hostage negotiations are notoriously fraught, with governments and families forced to decide if quiet discussions are less likely to antagonise captors, often against a fraught geopolitical backdrop.
Iran’s complex political and judicial system – which sees hardliners, reformists and myriad state institutions vying for influence – can make things more complex still.
Nonetheless, the “Free Kylie” group said the government should explore every option and urged Australians to petition members of parliament and the media to raise awareness. (Source: CNA)