On 14 September, the Australian government named the third person revealed to be in detention in prison in Iran as Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Melbourne academic from Britain who has published work on the 2011 Arab uprisings and authoritarian governments.
Her case came to light last week along with those of another British-Australian woman, Jolie King, and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin, who have been held for the past 10 weeks in an unrelated incident. The two British-Australian women are believed to be the first British passport holders without dual Iranian nationality to be held in the country in recent years.
Who is Kylie Moore-Gilbert?
British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated academic who is now a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University, has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since about October last year, having reportedly been given a 10-year sentence.
George Rennie, a colleague and lecturer in politics and lobbying at Melbourne University, tweeted on Sunday: “Humble doesn’t quite do Kylie justice. She was a thoughtful and passionate academic. This is a disgusting reflection on the Iranian dictatorship.”
Evin prison, the main detention centre for Iran’s political prisoners, also houses 41-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one who is midway through a five year sentence on spying charges which began in 2016. Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who yesterday was allowed a phone call with his wife for the first time in a month, said conditions in solitary confinement were “torturous”.
He told The Times: “There are no windows. There are no beds. There are just the Revolutionary Guard interrogators and an occasional cellmate to stop you going mad.”
Dr Moore-Gilbert has written extensively about revolutions and activism in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Bahraini politics and its protest movements. Her work includes writing about the February 14 Coalition, an anonymous youth movement that was formed during the Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011.
David Malet, an assistant professor at the American University in Washington who served on Dr Moore-Gilbert’s dissertation committee, said he was distraught about her imprisonment. “She’s a wonderful person and a serious scholar, not a spy,” he tweeted.
On 14 September, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a statement from Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, which said: “We have been and continue to be in close contact with the Australian Government. Our family thanks the Government and the University of Melbourne for their ongoing support at this distressing and sensitive time.”
Tensions between Britain and Iran
Western relations with Iran have been strained since the US withdrew last year from the nuclear deal and the news of the three prisoners last week comes amid a downturn in relations between Britain and Iran, sparked by issues including the Royal Marines’ seizure near Gibraltar in July of an Iranian oil tanker. Iran responded by seizing British-flagged oil tanker in what was another chapter in a campaign of interfering with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
On 11 September, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met the Iranian ambassador, after summoning him to discuss Iran’s behaviour over the seized tanker’s oil. During the meeting, Mr Raab also raised serious concerns about the number of dual national citizens detained by Iran and their conditions of detention, the Foreign Office said.
BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner says analysts believe the imprisonments are part of a response by Iran’s hardline judiciary and security establishment to hit back at the West for the country’s increasing isolation under international sanctions.
Dual nationals used as bargaining chips
Several people with dual Iranian and foreign nationality like Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have been detained in Iran in recent years and a UN panel in 2018 described “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran, which Tehran denied. Many analysts and observers believe they are being held as bargaining chips for political gains by the Iranian regime.
Among the detainees are Anousheh Ashouri (UK-Iran), Fariba Adelkhah (Iran-France), Siamak Namazi (US-Iran), Morad Tahbaz (UK-US-Iran), Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden), Kamal Foroughi (UK-Iran), Kamran Ghaderi (Austria-Iran), Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani (Canada-Iran), Xiyue Wang (China-US) and Nizar Zakka (US-Lebanon).
Earlier this year, the British Foreign Office hardened its travel advice for Iran, advising British-Iranian dual nationals not to travel there. Then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said dual nationals face an “intolerable risk of mistreatment” and arbitrary detention. He also warned that Iranian nationals living in the UK should exercise “caution” when returning to Iran to visit family and friends.
“Despite the UK providing repeated opportunities to resolve this issue, the Iranian regime’s conduct has worsened. Having exhausted all other options, I must now advise all British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran,” Mr Hunt said in a statement in May 2019.
The International Observatory of Human Rights has campaigned extensively for Iran to improve its human rights record and are a strong advocate for prisoners such as Nazanin Ratcliffe and Ahmadreza Djalali to be released. Last year, IOHR organised a panel discussion in the British Parliament to address the mass imprisonment of dual nationals in Iran.