Academic freed in Iran prisoner swap

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 27 Nov 2020

An Australian-British academic jailed for spying by Iran has been released after two "traumatic" years behind bars in a swap for three Iranians linked to a botched Bangkok bomb plot.

Middle East scholar Kylie Moore-Gilbert said yesterday that departing Iran was "bittersweet" despite "injustices" endured during more than 800 days detained in the country's toughest prisons.

The 33-year-old was arrested by the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2018, after attending an academic conference in the holy city of Qom. She was later charged with espionage and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Her release was secured as part of a prisoner swap for three men: Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, Mohammad Khazaei and wheelchair-bound Saeid Moradi, who blew off his own legs with homemade explosives.

All three were linked to a failed plot to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Thailand in 2012. Thai corrections authorities yesterday confirmed that Sedaghatzadeh and Moradi were transferred back to Iran as prisoners, while Khazaei was granted a royal pardon in August.

The first images of a freed Moore-Gilbert emerged from Iranian state television late Wednesday, sparking elation from friends and family who had campaigned for her freedom.

"We are relieved and ecstatic," the family said in a statement. "We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness that each of us feel at this incredible news."

In footage broadcast by Irib news agency from Tehran airport, Moore-Gilbert was seen wearing a headscarf and a mask, accompanied by the Australian ambassador. Seemingly aware of the camera, she removed the mask to confirm her identity.

Irib also showed footage of three men - one of them in a wheelchair - draped in Iranian flags and being greeted as heroes by officials, including the deputy foreign minister.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had spoken to Moore-Gilbert and confirmed she would receive health and psychological support on her return to Australia.

The University of Melbourne Islamic studies lecturer herself said she faced a "challenging period of adjustment" at home in Australia.

Letters smuggled out of prison told of Moore-Gilbert's deep psychological and legal struggles. She wrote that the first 10 months she spent in a wing of the notorious Evin prison had "gravely damaged" her mental health.

The US State Department accused Iran of "hostage diplomacy."

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