A former Bahraini lawmaker accused by Tehran of helping an Australian-British academic spy on Shiite exiles in Iran has dismissed the accusations as “zero percent true.”
Middle East scholar Kylie Moore-Gilbert was released last week after 804 days behind bars in a swap for three Iranians linked to a botched plot to kill Israeli officials in Bangkok.
Following her release, Iran accused her of being an Israeli intelligence agent and working with ex-Bahraini MP Jasim Husain to target exiled Bahraini opposition figures now in Iran.
She was arrested for alleged espionage by Iran’s hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2018, after attending an academic conference in the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
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The Iranian reports claimed she learned Hebrew and connected with an employee of the Shin Bet internal security service while visiting Israel. Intelligence officers then told her to shift her field of studies from Iranian involvement in Syria to opposition activities in Bahrain, the reports said.
The Iranian reports said Moore-Gilbert was trained for intelligence work in Israel, including learning Farsi and using encrypted communications, then was sent to Bahrain to collect information on Shiite opposition leaders in Iran.
Husain is accused in the report of teaching Moore-Gilbert Arabic and Farsi and offering to help her spy on Shia exiles in Iran.
“The story is unconvincing to anyone with basic knowledge,” Husain told the Guardian in an interview published Wednesday.
Husain said he had met Moore-Gilbert at an academic conference in Australia before her 2018 visit to Iran.
“I was aware of her trip, she was going there for a conference, then going to some tourist sites, then engaging in some research,” Husain said.
The reports said she attempted to arrange a meeting with a Bahraini opposition figure based in Iran, arousing the suspicion of Iranian authorities and leading to her arrest.
“Researchers normally grab the chance to do primary research rather than secondary,” Husain said. “Kylie can do no trouble to anyone, let alone a country. She is properly peaceful, a true researcher, an academic, someone who loves the Middle East.”
They “think Kylie and I worked to undermine them, to spy on them and pass on information to an intelligence community,” he said. “It is totally not true – zero percent true.”
Iranian media said Moore-Gilbert’s father was Jewish, that she had converted to Judaism in the UK in 2007 and had visited Israel many times since. The Iranian reports also said she married her partner, Ruslan Hodorov, an Israeli man of Russian heritage, in a Jewish ceremony in 2017.
The Iranian reports conflict with previous information about her arrest and have not been corroborated by international sources.
Last week Australian media said that Moore-Gilbert was detained after Iranian authorities found out she had an Israeli partner.
Fairfax Media said the discovery of Moore-Gilbert’s Israeli boyfriend led to Iranian authorities stopping her at Tehran’s airport as she prepared to leave the country.
Iranian authorities sentenced her to 10 years in prison for espionage. The Australian government and Moore-Gilbert rejected the allegations as baseless.
In Bangkok, Thai officials said last week 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.
In her first statement since arriving back in Australia, Moore-Gilbert said Tuesday she was “totally blown away” by efforts from friends and family to secure her release.
She thanked supporters from the “bottom of my heart,” saying they helped her through a “never-ending, unrelenting nightmare.”
“I honestly have no words to express the depth of my gratitude and how touched I am,” the 33-year-old said.