Iran offered jailed British-Australian academic 'work as spy'

Iran told jailed British-Australian academic to 'work as spy' in exchange for freedom
4 min read
21 January, 2020
In letters smuggled out of an Iranian prison, jailed British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert details her time in solitary confinement.
Tehran's notorious Evin prison houses several British nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe [Getty]
Letters obtained by The Guardian and The Times newspapers on Monday revealed that Iranian officials attempted to recruit jailed British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert as a spy, in exchange for her release.

In a letter sent to her case manager, she declared "official and definitive rejection" of the offer "to work with the intelligence branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)". 

She stated that she was "not a spy" and never had been one.

"I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country," she said, according to the letter.

"I am an innocent woman," she wrote to prison chiefs in August. "[I] have been imprisoned for a crime I have not committed and for which there is no real evidence."

In the letters, smuggled out of her cell in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, she described feeling "abondoned and forgotten". 

She is currently held in the prison's most restrictive unit, Ward 2A, where she has served extended periods in solitary confinement. She has pleaded with prison authorities to be moved to the general sections.

"I have been in 2A for almost a year and especially after my verdict, my health has deteriorated significantly," she wrote.

"I am entirely alone in Iran. I have no friends or family here and in addition to all the pain I have endured here, I feel like I am abandoned and forgotten."

Written in crude Farsi, the 10 letters are addressed to various Iranian judiciary and military officials and detail the conditions she has endured while incarcerated.

In July, Dr Moore-Gilbert wrote: "I'm taking psychiatric medications, but these 10 months that I have spent here have gravely damaged my mental health."

"I am still denied phone calls and visitations, and I am afraid that my mental and emotional state may further deteriorate if I remain in this extremely restrictive detention ward."

She also says she is unable to pay for personal necessities, such as medicine and food due to lack of funds. She also claims to be allergic to much of the prison food served to her. 

Dr Moore-Gilbert, who most recently taught Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 at Tehran Airport, while leaving the country after attending an academic conference. 

The arrest was carried out by the intelligence arms of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, based on being flagged as "suspicious" by a fellow academic, as well as a subject she interviewed for her research.

Tried and convicted in secret on charges of espionage last year, she is now serving a 10-year sentence. 

Yet following her appeal in November, she was handed two contradictory decision to her appeal - one outlining 13 months imprisonnment (namely, her time served, and thus, indicating her release) and the other, a decade-long term.

"How is it possible that the two very different appeal decisions were delivered to '2A' detention centre? It is clear that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim."

The Australian embassy was refused persmission to carry out a consular visit to Moore-Gilbert until a representative was allowed to see her last month and again, last week, according to The Times.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "We remain extremely concerned about the welfare of British dual nationals detained in Iran." 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised the concerns with Iranian President Rouhani on 9 January. Australia's foreign minister also spoke about the situation with her Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif, on the sidelines of a conference in India on 16 January.

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry commented on the matter last month.

"Iran will not submit to political games and propaganda," he said.

Moore-Gilbert was detained for "violating Iran’s national security", Mousavi added.

"Like any other individual with a sentence, [she] will serve her time while enjoying all legal rights."

Diplomatic progress on Moore-Gilbert's case is compounded by a blend of external and internal presssure facing Iran, left crippled under heavy US sanctions and and finding its relations with the west under severe strain.

Other UK nationals imprisoned in the same prison include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashooori, who are serving five and ten years' sentences respectively on charges disputed by the British government and activists.

Families of detained Britons have said they are being held as collateral and that the heightened tensions between the UK and Iran have made it harder to secure their release.

Agencies contributed to this report

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