Colleagues ‘over the moon’ at academic’s release from Iran

As Australia’s Kylie Moore-Gilbert prepares to come home, UN human rights observers express grave fears for Iranian-Swedish academic

November 25, 2020

Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert “will soon be reunited with her family” after enduring more than two years in prison in Iran, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne has confirmed.

The University of Melbourne Iranian studies lecturer was reportedly freed in a prisoner swap deal with the Iranian regime.

Ms Payne said Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release had been achieved “through diplomatic engagement” with Tehran. “This outcome demonstrates the value of professional and determined work, in the most appropriate way for each case, to resolve complex and sensitive consular cases,” the minister added.

“The Australian government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert.”

In a statement posted by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Moore-Gilbert thanked the Australian government “and in particular the Australian foreign ministry and Australian embassy in Tehran, who have been working tirelessly these past two years and three months to secure my release”.

Melbourne vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell said Dr Moore-Gilbert was safe, well and in strong spirits.

The news ends a harrowing ordeal not only for the young academic – who was arrested in 2018 after taking an intensive course on Shia Islam studies, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage – but also for friends and colleagues.

They were plainly outraged at her treatment but unwilling to speak publicly, fearing further repercussions against her. But they became increasingly anxious for her welfare, particularly after she was relocated to a crowded prison south of Tehran, and concerned that efforts at quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy were not bearing fruit.

There were reports that Dr Moore-Gilbert had been released in a prisoner exchange deal for three Iranians. Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported that the trio – an Iranian businessman and two other Iranian nationals who had been “detained abroad due to false charges” – had been “exchanged with a spy working for the Zionist regime”.

Media reports linked two of the released Iranians with a 2012 plot to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, which collapsed when homemade explosives destroyed the roof of their house. One of the men subsequently blew his legs off trying to hurl a bomb at police.

Footage from Iran shows the three men, one in a wheelchair, wearing Iranian flags across their shoulders. Dr Moore-Gilbert is shown in a headscarf and mask being escorted into a van.

A support group tweeted that it was “over the moon” at the news. “Our amazing friend and colleague…is on her way home after 804 days in prison in Iran. An innocent woman is finally free. Today is a very bright day in Australia indeed!

“But let’s be clear: this should never have happened. Kylie was held to ransom by the Iranian regime, which saw fit to take an innocent Australian woman hostage in order to bring its own convicted prisoners abroad home.”

The news appeared far less positive for Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who has reportedly been transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution.

“His torture, arbitrary detention, death sentence and now reported imminent execution are unconscionable acts that should be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms,” said United Nations human rights experts Javaid Rehman and Agnes Callamard.

“We urge the Iranian authorities to take immediate action to reverse this decision before it is too late.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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