Last week Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic imprisoned by the Iranian government, has been moved to the remote women-only Qarchak prison in the Varamin neighbourhood of Tehran, 35km South East of the Iranian capital. The move comes after Moore-Gilbert refused to cooperate with the Iranian government when they offered her release in exchange for her working as an Iranian spy.
A lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, Dr. Moore-Gilbert was arrested in September 2018 at the Tehran airport whilst returning from an academic conference in Qom. She was tried in secret for espionage and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for espionage in October. Her detention was confirmed publicly by the Australian authorities a year later.
The Cambridge-educated scholar who denies all charges made against her, has been detained in Evin prison since 2018. During her incarceration she has participated in a joint hunger strike with Iranian-born French, Sciences Po academic Dr. Fariba Adelkhah, “in the name of academic freedom” and has spent time in solitary confinement.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has confirmed that Dr. Moore-Gilbert has now been moved to the notorious Qarchak prison. The prison is renowned for its appalling living conditions; inmates have reported a shortage of beds and toilets, inedible food and water too salty to drink. She has not made contact with her family for over a month and writes that she feels “abandoned and forgotten.”
Ana-Diamond Aaba Atach, a Finnish-Iranian citizen imprisoned in Evin for 8 months in 2016, told the New York Times that “Prisoners describe Evin as a hotel in comparison to Qarchak…and Evin is a horrible place.” She also suggested that the move was intended to demonstrate the ability of the Iranian authorities to keep a firm hand on high-profile and highly publicized cases. The executive director of CHRI, Hadi Ghaemi, says that “complete contempt for the law is being compounded by inexplicable cruelty towards Kylie Moore-Gilbert.” The UN views prolonged solitary confinement akin to torture.
Inmates in prisons across Iran are also not being protected against Coronavirus, with overcrowding and lack of sanitation limiting the ability for social-distancing measures to be enforced. In March 85,000 prisoners were released across the country to help decrease the rate of the spread of the virus. These efforts have clearly not been effective enough as Amnesty International reported in April that 36 prisoners were killed by the security forces in attempts to stop anti-Corona protests.
There are concerns about Dr. Moore-Gilbert’s physical and mental wellbeing. It was reported earlier this week by the Guardian that she was unwell and afraid, citing a voice recording of her in which she says “I can’t eat anything. I feel so very hopeless…I am so depressed.” The state-run Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, however, refuted the claims, saying that she is in “perfect health.”
There is a glimmer of hope as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today confirmed that Lyndall Sachs, the Ambassador to Iran, will be allowed to make a consular visit to Dr. Moore-Gilbert on Sunday. A spokesperson from the Department told CNN that the Australian government holds “Iran responsible for Dr. Moore-Gilbert’s safety and well-being.” Ms Sachs recently visited the academic in Evin before her transfer to Qarchak.
Iran has a long history of detaining and arresting foreign and dual-Iranian academics. The process required to secure their release is often long and arduous, leading to unnecessary stress and damage to psychological and physical health. It is essential that the Iranian government follow the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Iran in 1975, by not only guaranteeing public and fair trials, but also demonstrating a willingness to collaborate with other governments in cases of a transnational nature.