The release from prison of four Americans by Iran in return for the unfreezing of funds could “incentivise” Tehran to take more hostages, former captive Kylie Moore-Gilbert has warned.
Dr Moore-Gilbert told The National the deal in which South Korea unfroze $6 billion of Iranian funds amounted to the paying of a “ransom” and called for action to “resolutely” deal with Iran’s hostage diplomacy.
She was detained for a total of 804 days and spent months in solitary confinement before she was returned to her homeland in a prisoner swap in November 2020.
“In my view, the transfer of Iran's frozen assets in South Korea does amount to the payment of ransom,” she said.
“And we should be concerned about the prospect that such a payment will only incentivise Iran's hostage diplomacy further, which will endanger the lives of even more foreign and dual nationals visiting Iran, as well as provide the regime with more funds to further its crackdown on human and women's rights inside the country.”
Authorities in Tehran released four Iranian-American prisoners from Evin prison and placed them under house arrest.
Those released were businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, Emad Shargi, 58, and 67-year-old environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also has British citizenship.
The fourth American citizen's identity has not been made public while another, also an unnamed American had already been released.
The funds freed by South Korea will be held in an account of Qatar’s central bank and Iran will reportedly be given access to the funds for humanitarian purposes.
Dr Moore-Gilbert said the deal was the third “major cash-for-hostages deal Western countries have agreed upon with Iran, and by far the most lucrative, with the Americans transferring more than $1 billion per hostage”.
While welcoming the restrictions on Iran’s access to the funds, she said “it remains to be seen how Qatar will be able to ensure that funds aren't siphoned off to boost the IRGC's budget or finance various Iranian proxy groups abroad”.
Dr Moore-Gilbert, a former lecturer in Islamic studies, was arrested in September 2018 and accused of spying as she tried to leave Iran.
She was fulfilling an invitation from an Iranian university to join a seminar on Shiite Islam and carry out three weeks of research.
In her book, The Uncaged Sky, she recounts the oppression of her time within prison and judicial systems, the companionship and hope she found with her fellow prisoners and her frustration at efforts by Australia and the UK to secure her release.
She said it was time the world stood up more vigorously to Iran’s hostage diplomacy.
“I am overjoyed for the families of the American hostages, who have campaigned tirelessly for years for their loved ones to be brought home from unjust detention,” said Dr Moore-Gilbert.
“However, Iran's hostage diplomacy strategy must be actively and resolutely curtailed to prevent further ransom payments and further hostage-takings.
“The Americans in particular must develop policy in this area to establish red lines around negotiating the release for American hostages abroad, and in my view, they should rule out any future cash-for-hostages deals, as they do when a non-state actor kidnaps an American citizen.”
She added there is a “pressing need for international collaboration to address hostage diplomacy, not just by Iran but by an increasing number of authoritarian actors like Russia, China, Venezuela and North Korea”.
“Assorted denunciations, condemnations, declarations etc no longer cut it if they are not followed up by concrete action.”