Detained Aussie academic in Iran begs PM Morrison to help her out


Academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges, has begged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to secure her release from a notorious Iranian jail, as human rights groups urge foreign governments to take a stronger line with Tehran.

A Cambridge-educated academic specialising in Middle East politics, Moore-Gilbert has been imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since September 2018, after she was arrested at Tehran airport while leaving the country after attending an academic conference.

Moore-Gilbert, who holds both British and Australian citizenship but was travelling on her Australian passport, was arrested by the intelligence arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, having been flagged as “suspicious” by a fellow academic.

She was tried and convicted in secret last year on charges of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison. An appeal against her sentence failed.

Last June, Moore-Gilbert wrote to the prime minister: “I beg you to act faster to bring this terrible trauma that myself and my family must live through day after day.” In the letter, smuggled out of prison, and published by the Centre for Human Rights in Iran, she said she had travelled to Iran on a university program for foreign academics, “as well as naively to conduct some research interviews”.

“Unfortunately, one of my academic colleagues on this program and one of my interview subjects flagged me as suspicious to the Revolutionary Guards.”

Moore-Gilbert has been held in the high-security unit of the Revolutionary Guards’ own prison within Evin, including months in solitary confinement. There, she has been confined to a 2mx3m cell, where the lights remain on 24 hours a day. She is blindfolded if she is ever taken out of her cell and has almost no contact with the outside world, seeing only her jailers and interrogators. The Guardian understands Moore-Gilbert has been allowed only two visits from Australian consular officials during her imprisonment.

On Christmas Eve, she wrote again: “Six months have passed … during this time I have remained in the same prison without any improvement in my intolerable conditions.

“Over the past nine months I have been completely banned from any contact with my family, with the exception of a three-minute phone call (with my father), which was only granted after I took desperate measures which put my own life at risk.

“I have undertaken five hunger strikes as my only means to raise my voice, but to no avail. As predicted, I have now received a conviction of 10 years in prison, and my appeal … has failed.

“I beg of you, Prime Minister Morrison, to take immediate action, as my physical and mental health continues to deteriorate with every additional day that I remain imprisoned in these conditions.”

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said the Australian government was working “every day with our agencies here and with counterparts in Iran to … secure Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release”.

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Abbas Mousavi, said last month that “Iran will not submit to political games and propaganda” in response to media reports of diplomatic pressure.

Moore-Gilbert was detained for “violating Iran’s national security”, Mousavi said. “Like any other individual with a sentence, [she]will serve her time while enjoying all legal rights”.

Two other Australians – the travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin – held for allegedly flying a drone near a military base in Tehran were released in October reportedly as part of an informal “prisoner swap” for the Iranian doctoral student Reza Dehbashi Kivi, who was imprisoned in Brisbane for more than a year pending extradition to the US over allegations he exported American radar equipment for detecting stealth planes or missiles to Iran. (Source: The Guardian)