Australia-U.K. dual national Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at Melbourne University, has been in Iranian state custody since September 2018. She was convicted of espionage in typical Revolutionary Court fashion: she received no independent legal representation; the prosecution never produced any witnesses or evidence of wrongdoing.
In 10 letters written to members of Iran’s judiciary and prison authorities between June and December 2019, Moore-Gilbert details the many ways she is being systematically denied her legal and basic human rights. The authenticity of the letters has been confirmed by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Moore-Gilbert describes how her captors have deprived her of contact with the outside world, food and medical attention. On a more positive side, the letters show one thing that they have failed to take away: her dignity.
We’ve heard strikingly similar stories before, but none like this from inside the Evin walls. Moore-Gilbert’s tone is respectful, honest — and tragic, because we know that none of her very legitimate requests or concerns will be adequately addressed.
As a former victim of the same Iranian state hostage-taking industry, I can confirm that everything we know about her case follows the same patterns of so many previous targets of this ugly phenomenon.
What are the conditions in Evin Prison like, and what can be done to win the release of a foreign national locked inside?
These are the inevitable and heartbreaking questions I’m asked each time news breaks of another innocent person being held hostage in Iran.
It’s a sadly familiar pattern: First there’s a burst of distressed messages and requests for advice from the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. Then journalists from the hostage’s home country reach out. They want to know the same things. And every one of them wants to hear that things aren’t as bad as they seem. That it’s all just a terrible misunderstanding.
Each of these concerned individuals is initially convinced that their home government is doing everything in its power to bring their fellow citizen home. That’s natural. We want to believe our elected officials value our lives and liberty.
The truth is more complicated. Governments struggle to balance their responsibilities to citizens in trouble abroad with their national and commercial interests. What’s more, the Iranian regime sometimes dupes governments into repeating the false accusations made against their citizens held hostage in Iran.
In this case, the Australian government appears to be taking a lackadaisical approach to ending Moore-Gilbert’s nightmare. Since her imprisonment became public last fall, I’ve spoken with several people who have direct knowledge of her situation. All of them say that officials in Canberra have advised her family to keep quiet, and that they are attempting to resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.
As usual, Tehran’s frontman in this hostage negotiation is Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Last week Zarif met with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne in Delhi.
Following that meeting, Payne told the Australian Broadcast Company that, “we have been very, very focused on Dr. Moore-Gilbert and the circumstances of her imprisonment.” The Australian embassy’s seeming inability to get funds to the prison so that Moore-Gilbert can purchase food and medicine — a routine matter at Evin when the authorities are willing to allow it — undermines that claim.
“We continue to believe that the best way to secure a successful outcome is through diplomatic channels and not through the media,” Payne added.
To be clear, media attention is not what frees hostages from Iran. But it can be what forces democratic and usually accountable governments, such as Australia’s, to act on behalf of its citizens.
Payne declined to speak about her discussions with Zarif, but I’m told by an individual with knowledge of the meeting that Zarif suggested to Payne that the continued harsh treatment of Moore-Gilbert is her own fault, because she is “such a difficult prisoner.”
Such victim-blaming is characteristic. Governments should publicly and loudly denounce it.
The available facts tell a different story, as do Moore-Gilbert’s own words from inside Ward 2A of Evin. This part of the prison is the IRGC’s equivalent of a “black ops” site. It is the only section with no external oversight from the rest of the government, a place where prisoners are held in isolation without recourse.
“It is clear that IRGC Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim. I have suffered 14 months in this temporary detention center — without any justifications, and my tolerance for such a game is really low,” Moore-Gilbert writes in a letter to Tehran’s prosecutor dated Nov. 27.
Governments persist in pushing the fairy tale that remaining silent about these cases in public will help the captives’ cause. This has been disproved over and over again.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s cry for help from Evin must not go ignored. She’s taken great personal risk by attempting to get these messages out. We owe it to her to amplify them.
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