Aussie academic freed from Iran jail due to fly back home

 

She spent 804 "traumatic" days in hell hole prisons in Iran.

But on Friday academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert could be back in the sanctity of Australia, after a release even the Prime Minister described as a "miracle".

Officials were on Thursday working to reunite the 33-year-old with her "relieved and ecstatic" family, in plan which respects coronavirus quarantine rules, but acknowledged the exceptional circumstances.

Freedom for the University of Melbourne academic - who was locked up on spying charges she fiercely denied - came through an unexpected prisoner swap deal with three Iranians, jailed in Thailand over a bungled bomb plot.

She was due to fly back on either a military or privately chartered flight and be taken to a secure location for the meeting with her family, who are from Bathurst, New South Wales.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, 33, who went on at least five hunger strikes during more than two years mainly spent in solitary confinement in a 2m by 3m cell, expressed her relief in a carefully-worded statement.

"Thank you also to all of you who have supported me and campaigned for my freedom, it has meant the world to me to have you behind me throughout what has been a long and traumatic ordeal," the determined Islamic Studies expert said.

"I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.

 

 

Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released from jail in Iran.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released from jail in Iran.

 

"It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to. I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened."

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a dual British-Australian national, was arrested in September 2018 after a colleague at a conference that she had been invited to at the University of Qom - which could have been a trap - alerted authorities.

She was picked up at the Tehran international airport as she was about to fly home, tried in secret, sentenced to 10 years' jail and had an appeal rejected last year.

Dr Moore-Gilbert revealed in letters, dated December 2019, that were leaked to News Corp Australia, the depths of her desperation.

On August 23 2019, she wrote to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps saying that she would not accept their offer to spy on Australian interests.

"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," she wrote.

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

In December 2019, in a leak that also included a plea for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to get her out of jail, she wrote that she had been banned from contact with her family for nine months, except for one three-minute phone call with her father.

That call was only placed after she put her "own life at risk."

"I have undertaken five hunger strikes as my only means to raise my voice, but to no avail," she wrote.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, who has a food intolerance, also wrote that she was unable to eat most of the meals provided to her and that her prison account did not have enough money in it.

There were concerns when she was moved in July from Evin prison to Qarchak prison, a notorious former chicken slaughterhouse converted into a women's jail known for its violence and overcrowding.

However, she was returned to Evin prison last month ahead of her release, but remained in solitary confinement.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed the news of Dr Moore-Gilbert's release, which was first reported on Iranian state television.

Those broadcasts included images of the three Iranians who were released from jail in Thailand as part of the prisoner exchange.

Saeed Moradi, Mohammad Khazaei, Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh were charged over a foiled bomb plot on Valentine's Day in 2012.

Moradi lost his legs in the blast that was allegedly targeting Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.

Dr Moore-Gilbert was also filmed making a statement in Iranian Farsi language outside Evin prison, in what was likely a propaganda tool for the regime who accused her of having links with Israel.

 

Kylie Moore-Gilbert is said to be healthy and in good spirits despite her long and traumatic ordeal. Picture: University of Melbourne.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert is said to be healthy and in good spirits despite her long and traumatic ordeal. Picture: University of Melbourne.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on the details of the diplomatic processes used to secure Dr Moore-Gilbert's release.

He spoke with her Thursday morning once she was safe, reporting she was healthy and in surprisingly good spirits given what she had endured.

"To you Kylie, you are amazing," Mr Morrison said.

"Your strength and your courage is an example to all Australians in an enormously difficult year here at home.

"I have always believed in miracles and I'm just thankful for this one as well. To see Kylie coming home."

Dr Moore-Gilbert's family described her release as "incredible".

"We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness that each of us feel at this incredible news," they said in a statement.

"Our family sincerely thanks the Australian government for its sustained efforts to secure Kylie's freedom, in particular Marise Payne, Lyndall Sachs and Scott Morrison."

Peter Greste, journalist and academic who spent 13 months in jail in Egypt, said: "Unfreakingbelievable!!! …. it is the best news in a truly crap year."

Dr Moore-Gilbert's friends said they were "over the moon that our amazing friend and colleague Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is on her way home after 804 days in prison in Iran."

A group of her friends said in a statement: "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. It's a despicable business model with incalculable human consequences."

 

ASSANGE ASKED IRAN FOR ACADEMIC'S RELEASE

Julian Assange's partner claimed that Kylie Moore-Gilbert was his cousin and that he lobbied the Iranian government for her release from his southeast London jail cell.

Stella Moris, who has two children with the WikiLeaks founder, made the stunning allegation on Thursday.

The South African-born lawyer was part of Assange's legal team, and has Spanish and Swedish nationality.

"Julian's cousin Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released!" she wrote on Twitter.

"Julian had petitioned Iran's leaders to release her earlier this year."

"I told Julian the news over the phone. He wants to express his gratitude to Australian and UK diplomats for securing her freedom."

Assange, who took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years, is on remand in Belmarsh prison.

He is fighting extradition to the United States on spying charges, which carry a maximum 175-year jail term.

 

A source close to the Assange camp said that the relationship with Dr Moore-Gilbert was correct, however the claim was at odds with an opinion piece the University of Melbourne academic wrote in 2011.

She was studying at Cambridge University in the UK where Assange was a guest speaker and described their meeting in the piece for her local paper the Western Advocate.

"Meeting Assange in the flesh was a wonderful, if somewhat nerve-racking experience, and opportunities such as this are one of the big bonuses of going to a university such as Cambridge," she wrote.

She said that Assange only spoke to her because he name tag said Kylie, which was more common in Australia than Britain.

"There was quite a scrum of students around him and I had to fight my way to the front, but was able to get his attention and speak to him for about five minutes," she wrote.

"Assange saw my name tag (Kylie) and asked if I was Australian. I said I was."

 

stephen.drill@news.co.uk

Originally published as Aussie academic freed from Iran jail due to fly back home



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