A British-Australian woman who has been sentenced to 10 years in a notorious Iranian prison has been identified as Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated academic specialising in Middle Eastern politics.
Dr Moore-Gilbert, who was working as a lecturer and researcher for Melbourne University’s Asia Institute and has published work on authoritarian governance and activism in the Middle East, was jailed in October 2018.
However, her detention had not been reported in case it harmed the prospects of her release.
On Saturday, the Australian government confirmed Dr Moore-Gilbert was being held in prison in Iran.
A statement from the family of Dr Moore-Gilbert, who is incarcerated in Evin prison, said they were in close contact with Australian authorities on the matter.
“Our family thanks the Government and the University of Melbourne for their ongoing support at this distressing and sensitive time.
“We believe that the best chance of securing Kylie’s safe return is through diplomatic channels.” It is not known what Dr Moore-Gilbert was charged with, but 10-year terms are routinely given in Iran for spying.
She is one of two British-Australian women whose detentions in Iran have come to light in the past week.
Jolie King, a travel blogger, and her Australian fiancé Mark Firkin were arrested near a military site in Jajrood near Tehran on August 9, it was revealed on Thursday. They had reportedly been using a drone to film aerial footage in the area.
They too have been sent to Evin prison, the main detention centre for Iran’s political prisoners, which 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.
Tehran has pursued a campaign of detaining Iranian and dual nationality academics in recent years, raising fears the Islamic Republic is using them as diplomatic leverage.
The Australian government has said it is lobbying Tehran to ensure all three are appropriately looked after.
Iran is believed to be holding the trio captive in the hope of exchanging one of them for an Iranian imprisoned in the US on charges of evading American sanctions.
Tensions between Britain and Iran escalated dramatically after it emerged the women were being held in the first recent case of Tehran arresting British citizens who do not also hold Iranian nationality.
Sources said Tehran sees the women as bargaining chips to secure the release of Negar Ghodskani, a 40-year-old Iranian woman facing jail in the US after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to export prohibited technology to Iran.
Ghodskani was arrested in Australia in 2017 at the request of US government and gave birth to a baby boy while in custody in Adelaide. She was extradited to the US and now faces five years in federal prison.
While Iran has not commented publicly on any of the arrests, in April the country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, proposed swapping Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe for Ms Ghodskani.
According to the University of Melbourne’s website, Dr Moore-Gilbert “specialises in Middle Eastern politics, with a particular focus on the Arab Gulf states,” and has published work on the 2011 Arab uprisings, authoritarian governance, and on the role of new media technologies in political activism.
In 2018 she was awarded a grant to investigate “Iran’s relationship with Bahrain’s Shi’a after the Arab Uprisings”.
Dr Moore-Gilbert’s LinkedIn profile shows her first degree came in Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge, where she also completed her Master of Arts.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she has raised the cases of the three prisoners “many times” with Mr Zarif, and denied the arrests were politically motivated.
“We have no reason to think that these arrests are connected to international concern over Iran’s nuclear programme, United Nations sanction enforcement or maritime security concerning the safety of civilian shipping,” Senator Payne said.
News of the three prisoners has come 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, the Grace I.
Iran responded by seizing British-flagged oil tanker the Stena Impero. While Britain released the Iranian tanker, the Stena Impero is still being held.
Australia also said in July that it would join the US and the UK in protecting shipping in the Strait of Hormuz from Iranian threats.
Relations between Tehran and the West, especially the United States, have deteriorated significantly since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to ramp up restricted enrichment.