Jailed Australian-UK Academic Claims Iran Tried to Recruit Her as Spy

January 21, 2020 Updated: January 21, 2020

An Australian British academic jailed in Iran is claiming that Tehran tried to recruit her as a spy in exchange for her release.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Islamic studies lecturer at the University of Melbourne, has described her ordeal in handwritten letters smuggled out of Tehran’s notorious Evin jail and seen by The Guardian. In the letters, she described feeling “abandoned and forgotten.”

The detained academic was arrested at Tehran airport in September 2018 after attending an educational conference. Moore-Gilbert is serving a 10-year sentence for espionage, a charge that she and the Australian government have denied; an appeal against her sentence failed.

She remains in an isolated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-run (IRGC) wing of Evin.

In 10 letters addressed to Iranian authorities between June and December 2019, the Cambridge-educated lecturer described how her physical and mental health had deteriorated, and begged to be released from the prison unit, where she has spent time in solitary confinement.

She lashed out at the IRGC for “playing an awful game” with her, claiming she was shown two conflicting imprisonment terms in October 2019—one 13-month sentence and the other confirming her original 10-year sentence.

“My case manager said that the 13-months decision was ‘fake,’ and was an illegal attempt by my lawyer and my ambassador to free me from prison,” she wrote. “I am an innocent victim.”

Moore-Gilbert said she is being denied visitations, phone calls to her family, and that she has little money to buy food. She added that her deteriorating health has led to multiple hospital visits.

“I’m taking psychiatric medications, but these 10 months that I have spent here have gravely damaged my mental health,” she wrote in a letter dated from July.

A month later, she wrote: “In the past month, I have been to the special care at ‘Baghiatollah Hospital’ twice and the prison infirmary six times.

“I think I am in the midst of a serious psychological problem.”

She added in a letter that she has rejected offers to spy for Iran and “work with the intelligence branch of IRGC,” while maintaining that she had become the victim of “fabrications and trumped-up accusations.”

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy and I have no interest to work for a spying organization in any country,” she wrote in a letter to her Iranian case manager. “Under no circumstances will I be persuaded to change my decision.”

This week, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with Javad Zarif, her Iranian counterpart, to discuss Moore-Gilbert’s case.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne at a panel discussion during Raisina Dialogue, a global conference in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 16, 2020. (Manish Swarup/AP Photo)

“The government has been working extremely hard in relation to the ongoing detention of Kylie Moore-Gilbert,” Payne said. “We don’t accept the charges on which she has been held and are concerned for her protection and the conditions under which she is held.”

However, Iran has said it won’t bow to pressure or “submit to political games and propaganda.”