Iranian authorities move academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert to notorious desert prison


British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage, has been transferred to a prison in the desert, notorious for violence and reportedly stricken with coronavirus.

Ms. Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at Melbourne University, has been in jail since September 2018. She has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison for nearly two years, before her sudden move three days ago to Qarchak women’s prison, southeast of Tehran.

Ms. Moore-Gilbert has been able to make one phone call out. She told an Iranian human rights activist that she was in a very bad state, depressed and unable to eat.

“I can’t eat anything. I’m so very hopeless,” Moore-Gilbert said, speaking Persian on the call. “I am so depressed. I don’t have any phone card to call. I’ve asked the prison officers but they didn’t give me a phone card. I [was last able to]call my parents about one month ago.”

Isolated and overcrowded, Qarchak has a reputation as one of the most hostile prisons in the country. Last month, the US state department listed Qarchak as an entity responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”.

A report by the Human Rights Activists News Agency in March detailed acts of violence, including torture and rape, as well as lack of medical services.

Coronavirus is understood to be present within the prison. Sources say social distancing is impossible, and access to soap is often limited.

Like Evin prison’s Ward 2A, where Moore-Gilbert had been held previously, Qarchak prison is controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Moore-Gilbert is reportedly in a quarantine section of the prison for new inmates.

The Guardian has confirmed Moore-Gilbert’s move to Qarchak with independent sources inside Iran.

Some have said Qarchak prison is notoriously used to “exile” prisoners considered difficult, or whose cases are acutely potentially sensitive, while other sources said the transfer could be seen as potential movement in her case, and not designed as a punitive measure.

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 after attending an academic conference, at which she was invited to speak, in Qom.

Fellow conference delegates and an interview subject for her academic work flagged her as “suspicious” to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who arrested her at Tehran airport as she prepared to fly out of the country.

She was convicted in a secret trial and sentenced to 10 years prison on charges of espionage. An appeal failed.

No evidence has ever been publicly presented of Moore-Gilbert’s alleged crimes. She has denied the allegations against her, and the Australian government rejects them as baseless and politically motivated.

A citizen of both the UK and Australia, Moore-Gilbert has been publicly silent for months, since a series of smuggled letters were published earlier this year detailing the privations of her imprisonment, including months isolated in solitary confinement, and a shortage of food, medicine, and money to buy personal items.

Iran has temporarily released more than 100,000 prisoners out of concern COVID-19 could sweep through the country’s overcrowded prisons, but Moore-Gilbert has not been among those released. (Source: The Guardian)