Iran frees Australian-British researcher accused of spying for Israel

3 Iranians held abroad released in exchange for Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence over what she said were trumped-up charges

Kylie Moore-Gilbert (Screen capture: YouTube)
Kylie Moore-Gilbert (Screen capture: YouTube)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has released Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for spying, in exchange for three Iranians, state television in the Islamic Republic reported Wednesday.

The broadcaster’s Iribnews website showed video footage of three unidentified men — one of them in a wheelchair — draped in Iranian flags and being met by officials.

It also aired images of a veiled Moore-Gilbert entering a building with the Australian ambassador to Tehran, Lyndall Sachs, before taking off her face mask. She is later seen getting into a white van carrying a brown bag.

“A businessman and two (other) Iranian citizens detained abroad on the basis of false accusations were freed in exchange for a spy with dual nationality working for” Israel, the broadcaster’s Iribnews website said, also identifying Moore-Gilbert by name.

The broadcaster provided no further information on the prisoner swap.

A lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Moore-Gilbert’s arrest was confirmed by Iran in September 2019 but it is believed she had been detained a year earlier.

She has denied the charges against her.

An Iranian female prisoner prays in her cell, in the Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 13, 2006 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian media has remained silent about Moore-Gilbert and the little information that has emerged has mostly come from Australian authorities, her family and from British and Australian media.

British newspaper The Guardian reported that Moore-Gilbert was arrested at Tehran airport by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in September 2018 after attending an academic conference in the holy city of Qom, in central Iran.

According to letters she smuggled out of prison and published in British media in January, Moore-Gilbert rejected Tehran’s offer to work as a spy.

Moore-Gilbert wrote that the first 10 months she spent in an isolated Guards-run wing of Tehran’s Evin prison had “gravely damaged” her mental health, according to extracts in The Guardian and The Times newspapers.

“Please accept this letter as an official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” she wrote, according to The Guardian.

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy and I have no interest to work for a spying organization in any country.”

Illustrative: A prison in Iran. (CC BY-SA Ehsan Iran/Wikipedia)

“When I leave Iran, I want to be a free woman and live a free life, not under the shadow of extortion and threats,” she added.

She claimed she was shown two different decisions to her appeal -– one for a 13-month sentence, another confirming the original sentence of 10 years.

“I am still denied phone calls and visitations, and I am afraid that my mental and emotional state may further deteriorate if I remain in this extremely restrictive detention ward,” she wrote.

In October, friends said Moore-Gilbert had been returned to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, prompting fresh concern about her well-being.

She had disappeared inside Iran’s prison system a week earlier, sparking frantic efforts to learn her whereabouts.

Conditions at Evin are believed to be marginally better than Moore-Gilbert’s previous jail at Qarchak — a women’s facility that has been blacklisted under UN human rights sanctions and is notorious for the ill-treatment of political prisoners.

Throughout Moore-Gilbert’s internment, friends and family had become increasingly critical of what they said was Australia’s ineffective diplomatic approach.

Iran, which has tense relations with the West, has over the years arrested several foreign nationals, most often on accusations of spying.

They include French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in the Islamic Republic in June 2019.

Two other Australians, travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin, were released in October 2019 by Iran, in an apparent swap for Iranian student Reza Dehbashi.

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