TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran on Wednesday released a British-Australian academic who had been detained in the country for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians being held abroad, state TV announced.
The television report lacked detail, saying only that three Iranians released in the exchange had been jailed for trying to bypass sanctions against Iran.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, 33, was a University of Melbourne lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at the Tehran airport while trying to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018.She was sent to Evin’s prison in Tehran, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Moore-Gilbert vehemently denied the accusations and stated that she was innocent.
He is one of several Westerners detained in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges that UN activists and investigators believe are a systematic attempt to exploit their imprisonment for money or influence in negotiations with the West, which Tehran denies. Moore-Gilbert wrote in a series of letters to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailing his plight that he had been jailed “for blackmailing” the Australian government.
Moore-Gilbert’s detention has strained relations between Iran and the West at a time of heightened tensions, which peaked earlier this year after the assassination of an Iranian general in Baghdad and Iranian retaliatory attacks on US military bases.
It is not clear when Moore-Gilbert will return to Australia. State TV aired footage showing her wearing a gray headscarf sitting in what looked like a greeting room at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport. Accompanied by another Western woman in colorful headscarves, Moore-Gilbert wore a blue face mask tucked under her chin and a stoic expression. The timing of its release is also unclear, but TV footage shows faint sunlight streaming through the window during the swap. Later, footage showed Moore-Gilbert being escorted to a large gray van after nightfall.
The state TV report did not go into detail about the Iranians it described as “economic activists” who were released in exchange for Moore-Gilbert. They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, black baseball caps pulled over their eyes and surgical masks, clothes apparently designed to hide their identities on screen. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, welcomed the three Iranians at the airport.
International pressure has risen on Iran to release Moore-Gilbert. She has been on hunger strikes many times and her health has deteriorated during her long time in solitary confinement. Over the summer, he was transferred to the remote Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, because of growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s notorious prison.
Moore-Gilbert has appealed to the Australian government to work harder for his release. In his letter to Prime Minister Morrison, he wrote that he had been subjected to “grave violations” of his rights, including psychological torture.
There has been no immediate comment from the Australian authorities on Moore-Gilbert’s release.
Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.