Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released from an Iranian prison after spending more than two years behind bars over allegations of espionage.
“Thank you … 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,” Dr Moore-Gilbert said in a statement.
“I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.
“It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices I have been subjected to. I came to Iran as a friend, with friendly intentions.”
The Islamic studies lecturer was tried in secret for espionage and sentenced to 10 years prison, despite no evidence of her alleged crimes having been publicly presented.
She has been detained since September 2018, at times in the notorious Qarchak prison, which has been described as an unsanitary and insect-infested place where the sewage system frequently overflows and where COVID-19 has been running rampant this year.
A report by a Washington, DC-based organisation for human rights in Iran described the conditions in the prison: “Every day, Qarchak’s sewer system overflows into the wards’ courtyards, filling the grounds with a terrible stench that draws in swarms of insects … The purportedly drinkable water – which has an odour of sewage – comes from a different source that is also cut off periodically in the summer.”
“An innocent woman is finally free. Today is a very bright day in Australia indeed!,” friends posted on a Twitter account that campaigned hard for her release.
Iranian state media claims she has been exchanged in an inmate swap for three Iranian citizens who have been detained abroad.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased”.
“Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release has been an absolute priority for the Government since her detention,” Ms Payne said in a statement.
“The Australian Government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian Government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert. We continue to do so.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he spoke to Dr Moore-Gilbert on Thursday morning and that it was “wonderful to hear her voice”.
“Securing Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release has been an absolute high priority for our Government,” he said.
“We have always rejected her conviction and detention and I join with all Australians in praising Dr Moore-Gilbert and her family for their courage, strength and patience as we have all worked tirelessly together to secure her release.”
The Prime Minister said Dr Moore-Gilbert is with the Australian Ambassador to Iran and other officials in Tehran.
“This is a great day for Australia and obviously a wonderful day for Kylie and her family,” the prime minister said.
“She is an extraordinarily intelligent, strong and courageous woman.
“She is an amazing Australian who has gone through an ordeal that we can only imagine and it will be a tough transition for her, as it has been
for others in similar experiences in the past.”
Dr Moore-Gilbert will go into quarantine but Senator Payne said she would not be alone and would be “well supported”.
“We would all understand that Dr Moore-Gilbert has adjustments to make, some plans to consider, so this will be a period of privacy and one expects, decompression,” Senator Payne said.
The BBC quoted Iranian state media as saying Dr Moore-Gilbert was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”.
Mr Morrison refused to go into details about the prisoner swap.
Travel advice for Iran will remain at a ‘do not travel’ status due to COVID-19 and the volatile security situation and high risk that Australians could be arbitrarily detained or arrested.
Video published by the state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting shows Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and a face mask, briefly removing it to reveal her face.
She is seen getting into a van, unsmiling, before a man shuts the sliding door and gets into the front seat.
Ms Payne said the release was the result of diplomatic engagement with Iran undertaken in consultation with Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family.
“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,” Ms Payne said.
"I wish Dr Moore-Gilbert well in her recovery and her return to life in Australia. No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention. I also commend the endurance, trust and resilience of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, friends and university colleagues throughout this period.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Kylie Moore-Gilbert‘s release was wonderful news.
“It's an outrage that very clearly the Iranian government has used this situation as effectively a hostage situation,” Mr Albanese said.
“It is a good thing that Australian foreign affairs officials have been able to achieve this outcome.”
Amnesty International also celebrated her release, and included a stern demand in a statement put out on Thursday morning:
“Her allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including through prolonged solitary confinement, must be independently and effectively investigated by the Iranian authorities and anyone found responsible brought to justice in fair trials.”
Ms Moore-Gilbert was stopped from returning back to Melbourne, where she is a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, after attending a conference in Qom in Iran in August 2018.
The country‘s Revolutionary Guard alleged that a person she interviewed for a research project was suspicious and refused to let her leave Iran.
Dr Moore-Gilbert and her family have asked for privacy, the Foreign Affairs Department said.