Kylie Moore-Gilbert's release from Iran prison brings 'phenomenal' joy to friends and supporters

"Phenomenal", was how Ms Moore-Gilbert's friend and colleague Dara Conduit described her feelings on Thursday morning.

Iran has freed Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic who has been detained in Iran for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad..

Iran has freed Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic who has been detained in Iran for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad. Source: AFP

Friends, colleagues and supporters of Kylie Moore-Gilbert have expressed their joy and relief after learning the Australian-British academic is finally on her way home to Australia after spending more than 800 days in an Iranian prison.

Dr Moore-Gilbert was released on Wednesday night in exchange for three Iranians, according to state television in Iran.

She had served two years and three months of a 10-year prison sentence after being arrested on allegations of spying, which she and the Australian government have strenuously denied. 

"Phenomenal", was how Ms Moore-Gilbert's friend and colleague Dara Conduit described her feelings on Thursday morning.

"We are over the moon that our amazing friend and colleague Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is on her way home after 804 days in prison in Iran," said a statement by the Free Kylie MG group, shared by Ms Conduit. 

"An innocent woman is finally free. Today is a very bright day in Australia indeed."

The group thanked DFAT and "the thousands of people from around the world who joined the fight to bring her home" and they shared some fond words for Dr Moore-Gilbert.

"Kylie: We send you all our love. We think you are incredible. We never for one minute doubted your innocence. And we can’t wait to see you when you’re ready."

Mark Isaacs, president of freedom of speech group PEN Sydney, who has been active in the campaign for Dr Moore-Gilbert's release, said he felt "amazed and extremely excited" on Thursday morning.

"Our first thoughts go to Kylie and her family and all her colleagues and friends who I'm sure will be over the moon about her release," he told SBS News. 

"And we're just excited as an organisation because we work with imprisoned writers all the time and it's so rare to see a good outcome.

"We're very happy to hear this news."

Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell from the University of Melbourne, where Dr Moore-Gilbert was a lecturer in Islamic Studies before her arrest, said the community was "delighted and relieved" she had been released.

The university’s first priority was her ongoing health and wellbeing, he said.

“Our university community is delighted that Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released and will be coming home to her family and friends. We have waited a long time for this day,” Professor Maskell said.

Australian journalist Peter Greste, who spent time in an Egyptian prison after being convicted in 2014 for journalism that was "damaging to national security", could barely contain his excitement early on Thursday before Dr Moore-Gilbert's release was confirmed.

"Unfreakingbelievable!!! IF this is true - and I hope to God that it is - it is the best news in a truly crap year," he tweeted.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Dr Moore-Gilbert's release as "a miracle" at a news conference on Thursday morning.

"I have always believed in miracles and I'm just thankful for this one as well. To see Kylie coming home," he said.

Mr Morrison received the news late on Wednesday night that Dr Moore-Gilbert was safe and with Australia's Ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs.

He spoke with the academic on Thursday morning and said she sounded "in good spirits", despite her ordeal. 

"She seems to be, in our own conversations, in quite good spirits, but I imagine there is a lot of processing to go through yet and as she returns home to Australia and adjust to life here again."

Mr Morrison described Dr Moore-Gilbert as "an extraordinarily intelligent, strong and courageous woman".

"Kylie, you are amazing. Your strength encourages an example to all Australians and what has been an enormously difficult time at home but compared to what you have been going through, well, that is a whole another experience entirely."

Mr Morrison said Dr Moore-Gilbert will have continuous support during her mandatory quarantine period. Her physical and mental health will be monitored closely as she settles back into normal life. 

He has also asked the media to give the family privacy.

British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert.
Iran has freed Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been detained in Iran for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad. Source: Iranian State Television

Dr Moore-Gilbert was a lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was arrested at Tehran airport while trying to leave the country after a conference in 2018.

She was sent to Evin prison, where she lived in an isolated guards-run wing, before moving to the remote and notorious Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, as fears escalated over the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s crowded prisons. 

She has always denied her charges and maintained her innocence, going on repeated hunger strikes as her health deteriorated during long stretches in solitary confinement.

Criticism over a long process

The Australian government has always rejected her conviction but has faced increased criticism over what Dr Moore-Gilbert's friends and family have described as an ineffective diplomatic approach.

"When the dust settles it will be important to have a look at why it took so long for Kylie to be brought home and why we didn't have a resolution earlier," Mr Isaacs at PEN Sydney said on Thursday morning.

"If a deal couldn't have been made earlier, could public pressure have been applied earlier?"

The prime minister on Thursday said the Australian government has been working quietly and tirelessly behind the scenes for more than two years to secure Ms Moore-Gilbert’s release. He thanked Ms Sachs and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne for their commitment to the process.

"These arrangements to secure the release of Australians are very difficult to work through and are very complex.

"The Australian government practice... has always been to deal with these issues with a great deal of discretion.

"But what is true is that Kylie Moore-Gilbert is coming home. She was facing another eight years in an Iranian prison, wrongfully imprisoned and convicted, and it is incredibly essential that we did the work that was done to kill her release and see her coming home."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased” that Dr Moore-Gilbert had been released from her “unjustified detention” and was safely on her way home.

“Dr Moore-Gilbert will soon be able to resume her life with her family and work colleagues and this is cause for great relief and also great joy today."

Ms Payne said the government had decided to negotiate Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release through diplomatic channels and had received “the trust and confidence” of her family during the process.

“The Australian people can be absolutely assured that their diplomatic corps has served us all with utmost professionalism and discretion. This has been a long process.

"This outcome demonstrates, for me, and I think to Australia, the value of professional, determined, discrete work of officials in resolving complex and sensitive consular cases."

At any one time, Australian consular officials can be dealing with over 200 cases of Australians imprisoned around the world, Ms Payne added.

“Every single one of them is a difficult case in its own way. Every single one of them takes considerable consular time to engage on and to provide support for, and we take all of them very, very seriously.”

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7 min read
Published 26 November 2020 at 10:50am
By Caroline Riches