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Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Lecturer ‘released by Iran’ in prisoner swap

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Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Lecturer ‘released by Iran’ in prisoner swap

A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been freed in exchange for three jailed Iranians, Iranian media say.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at Melbourne University, had been detained in Iran since September 2018.

She was tried in secret and strongly denied all the charges against her.

According to Iranian state media, she was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”.

They have not yet been named. 

News of the exchange came on Wednesday in a statement on the website of the Young Journalist Club, a news website affiliated to state television in Iran.

“An Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens who were detained abroad on baseless charges were exchanged for a dual national spy named Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who worked for the Zionist regime,” it said.

Video purporting to show the exchange was published by state broadcaster IRIB news and the Tasnim website.

The video, which had no commentary, showed Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and being driven away in a mini-van. Three men are seen being met by officials. One is in a wheelchair.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated academic, had been travelling on an Australian passport when she was detained at Tehran airport in 2018 as she tried to leave following a conference.

In letters smuggled out of Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year, the lecturer said she had “never been a spy” and feared for her mental health. She said she had rejected an offer from Iran to become a spy.

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

Concerns for her wellbeing escalated in August when news emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak, a notorious prison in the desert.

She was visited shortly afterwards by Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, who reported that she was “well”.

Before being moved to Qarchak, Dr Moore-Gilbert had spent almost two years sleeping on the floor of a cell at Evin prison, according to a friend.

She had been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes, and was said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners.

Iran has detained a number of foreign nationals and Iranian dual citizens in recent years, many of them on spying charges. Human rights groups have accused Tehran of using the cases as leverage to try to gain concessions from other countries.

British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on spying charges in 2016. She has always maintained her innocence.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, welcomed reports of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release.

“Nazanin and I are really happy for Kylie and her family,” he told the BBC. “They have been through so much, borne with such dignity. And it is an early Christmas present for us all, that one more of us is out and on their way home, one more family can begin to heal.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said news of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was “an enormous relief”.

“There may now be renewed grounds for hoping that UK-Iranian dual-nationals like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will also be released from their unjust jail terms in Iran in the coming days or weeks,” she said.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, was jailed for 10 years in July 2019 after being convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. 

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