Academic released by Iran was jailed over Israeli boyfriend — reports

Australian media says Kylie Moore-Gilbert was detained at Tehran airport in 2018 after Iranian authorities learned that her partner came from Jewish state

In this frame grab from Iranian state television video aired Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, is seen in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian State Television via AP)
In this frame grab from Iranian state television video aired Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, is seen in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian State Television via AP)

A British-Australian academic released from an Iranian prison this week was arrested in 2018 after Iran learned she was in a relationship with an Israeli citizen, which led to claims she was a spy for Israel, Australian media reported Friday.

Fairfax Media said the discovery of Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s Israeli boyfriend led to Iranian authorities stopping her at Tehran’s airport as she prepared to leave the country in 2018 after attending an academic conference. Authorities sentenced her to 10 years in prison for espionage. The Australian government and Moore-Gilbert rejected the allegations as baseless.

Moore-Gilbert arrived back in Australia Friday after a prisoner exchange and will soon reunite with her family after more than two years in an Iranian prison.

She was met by public health officials and members of the Australian Defense Force after leaving her plane at Canberra Airport, less than 24 hours after being released from prison in Iran.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said Moore-Gilbert, 33, will have to undergo quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.

Passengers, including British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, disembark from an Australian government jet after arriving at Canberra Airport in Canberra, Australia, November 27, 2020. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

The academic from Melbourne University was released after 804 days behind bars on spying charges. She was freed in exchange for the release of three Iranians who were held in Thailand.

Fairfax Media reported that the Australian government played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in bringing Thailand to the table and engineering the prisoner swap.

Fairfax cited unidentified Australian government sources as saying the at-times delicate negotiations took more than six months.

In Bangkok, Thai officials said they transferred three Iranians involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot back to Tehran. While they declined to call it a swap and Iran referred to the men as “economic activists,” the arrangement freed Moore-Gilbert and saw the three men, who were linked to a wider bomb plot targeting Israeli diplomats, return home to a hero’s welcome.

They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, their faces largely obscured by black baseball caps and surgical masks. It was a sharp contrast to other prisoner exchanges Iran has trumpeted in the past, in which television anchors repeatedly said their names and broadcasters aired images of them reuniting with their families.

Itzhak Shoham, who was Israel’s ambassador to Thailand in 2012, fumed over their release.

Saeid Moradi (C), an Iranian suspected of involvement in the February 2012 bomb blasts in Bangkok, and fellow suspect Mohammad Khazaei (2nd-R) appear at a court in Bangkok, August 22, 2013. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP)

“I don’t know anything about this deal beyond what was published. Of course it saddens me to see the pictures as [the Iranians] celebrate instead of rotting in prison,” he told Channel 12 news.

Shoham said his “only consolation” was that former Quds Force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose Quds Force was accused of orchestrating the plot, was killed this January in a US drone strike.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he was “thrilled and relieved” that Moore-Gilbert had been released but added that it would take time for her to process her “horrible” ordeal.

“The tone of her voice was very uplifting, particularly given what she has been through,” Morrison told Australia’s Network Nine.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a virtual summit meeting at Parliament House in Canberra, August 5, 2020. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

Despite her ordeal, Moore-Gilbert said in a statement that she had “nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.”

Asked about the swap, Morrison said he “wouldn’t go into those details, confirm them one way or the other.” However, he said he could assure Australians there had been nothing done to prejudice their safety and no prisoners were released in Australia.

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