British-Australian academic jailed in Tehran rejected Iran’s offer to work as a spy

Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested in September 2018 and convicted of espionage

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Melbourne University lecturer held by Iran. AFP
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Melbourne University lecturer held by Iran. AFP

A British-Australian academic jailed in Tehran wrote letters smuggled out of her cell that said Iran tried to recruit her as a spy.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 when she was at an education conference and was convicted of espionage. She and the Australian government say the charges are false.

The Cambridge-educated professor is being held in Ward 2A of Evin Prison, an isolated Revolutionary Guard-run wing of the notorious jail where she is serving a 10-year sentence.

Letters that were understood to have been written by Prof Moore-Gilbert and obtained by British newspapers reveal she felt “abandoned and forgotten” and had little money to buy food.

Her depleted physical condition has led to her frequently being taken to hospital.

She said her treatment had been “inhumane” as she detailed her deteriorating mental health.

“I think I am in the midst of a serious psychological problem, I can no longer stand the pressures of living in this extremely restrictive detention ward any more,” Prof Moore-Gilbert wrote.

"My situation here is even more difficult due to the ban on having any phone calls with my family. I worry a lot about their reactions to my verdict but I cannot talk to them,” she added.

The letters were written in Farsi between June and December last year and then were translated by the paper.

They were addressed to three men: Mr Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr Ghaderi and Mr Hosseini, who are thought to be mid-ranking officers in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

One letter read: “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.

“I am an innocent victim. I have suffered 14 months in this temporary detention centre without any justification, and my tolerance for such a game is really low at the moment.”

In another letter, Prof Moore-Gilbert said she was deprived of books in jail as a form of psychological manipulation.

“My case manager has taken the books hostage in order to put psychological pressure on me,” she wrote.

“These books belong to the embassy and the judge has explicitly ordered that they should be given to me. The same goes for an English copy of the Quran, which does exist inside Ward A-2. I know.”

“Please help me retrieve these books from the IRGC, and please don’t listen to the excuses and lies of my ‘case expert’.

Prof Moore-Gilbert said in another letter that she had been given one four-minute phone call with her family in the past three months.

“The judge has allowed me phone calls as well, but I was still denied phone calls,” she said.

Australia’s Foreign Minister said on Friday that she had raised with her Iranian equal the fate of Prof Moore-Gilbert and urged the government to free her.

Marise Payne declined to detail her conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the convicted academic on the sidelines of a global leadership conference in India.

British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been held in Evin Prison since her arrest in 2016 over spying allegations that she denies.

“We remain extremely concerned about the welfare of British dual nationals detained in Iran,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

“The prime minister raised these concerns with President [Hassan] Rouhani on January 9, and the Foreign Secretary did so with Mr Zarif on January 6.”

Updated: January 21, 2020 05:34 PM


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