Australia has refused to be fooled into whether it was involved in a prisoner swap deal to free academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians involved in a failed attempt to kill Israeli diplomats eight years ago.
Moore-Gilbert, a dual British-Australian national, was suddenly released from Evin Prison in Tehran on Wednesday after serving just over two years of a 10-year sentence for espionage.
His conviction in a secret trial was internationally regarded as unfounded and politically motivated. No evidence of Moore-Gilbert’s alleged crimes has ever been publicly presented. She has denied the allegations against her and the Australian government rejects them as unfounded.
His release was engineered in what Iran, but not Australia, recognized was a trade for three men convicted of an attempted terrorist attack on Thai soil.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on the machinations of Moore-Gilbert’s release and negotiations for his freedom. He did not want to confirm or deny whether his release was a prisoner exchange.
“We do not confirm or comment on any of the suggestions surrounding his release … that practice exists for good reason and that is because Australia works through diplomatic channels to solve many problems of this nature.”
When asked about Australia’s consultation with Israel and Thailand on the exchange, Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters: “I am not going to comment on diplomatic discussions with other governments.”
Iranian state media showed images of the three men: Saeid Moradi, Mohammad Kharzei, Massoud Sedaghatzadeh. receiving garlands of flowers, wrapped in the national flag, upon their return to Iran. They were involved in a calamitous bomb attack in Bangkok in February 2012 that aimed to kill Israeli diplomats, but only managed to blow up their own rented apartment and injure five people.
Moradi lost his legs when a grenade he threw at the police hit a tree and ricocheted off it. He was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
Kharzei, detained at Bangkok airport while trying to flee the country, was later sentenced to 15 years in prison. Sedaghatzadeh, captured in Malaysia trying to return to Iran, was extradited to Thailand in 2017.
Iranian state media said they had designed an “exchange” for Moore-Gilbert, who they described as a spy with ties to MI6 and Israel’s “military intelligence service” and who had traveled to countries in the Middle East, Europe and West Asia at the behest of the governments he worked for.
“And after two years of his sentence, the Islamic Republic regime finally decided to trade it for three Iranian economic activists who were arrested for trying to circumvent sanctions,” the state news agency Mers said.
State TV Irib aired a short video, compiled with dramatic music and lighting effects, showing Moore-Gilbert leaving Tehran on Wednesday. Wearing a face mask and headscarf, he talks to officials and travels in a van before boarding a plane marked with an Australian flag on the tail.
It is not known where Moore-Gilbert has flown. She is being returned to Australia, where she will undergo a two-week quarantine.
Upon leaving Iran after 804 days in prison, Moore-Gilbert praised the people of Iran.
“I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its caring, generous and courageous people,” he said. “It is with bittersweet feelings that I leave your country, despite the injustices to which I have been subjected.
“I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and I am leaving Iran with those feelings not only intact, but strengthened.”
Moore-Gilbert thanked the Australian government and, in particular, the diplomats at the Australian embassy in Tehran, “who have been working tirelessly these past two years and three months to ensure my launching”.
“Thanks also to everyone who has supported me and campaigned for my freedom, it has meant a lot to me to have you behind me during what has been a long and traumatic ordeal.”
Moore-Gilbert’s family said they were “relieved and ecstatic” at his release. “We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness we all feel at this incredible news.”
During his incarceration, Moore-Gilbert had consistently denied the charges against him.
“I am an innocent woman,” she wrote in a letter smuggled out of prison last year, “[and] I have been imprisoned for a crime that I have not committed and for which there is no real evidence.
“This is a grave injustice, but sadly it does not surprise me, from the beginning [of my arrest] it was clear that there were lies and false accusations. “
He also wrote that he had rejected the Iranian government’s proposals to spy for them in exchange for their freedom.
“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy and I have no interest in working for an espionage organization in any country. When I leave Iran, I want to be a free woman and live a free life, not under the shadow of extortion and threats. “
The prime minister spoke with Moore-Gilbert and said she was healthy and “in a good mood”, although she warned that her adjustment to freedom would take time.
Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who was detained in Iran for 544 days, said he was delighted to see Moore-Gilbert free “after more than two years as a hostage to the Iranian regime.”
“As happy as I am, I know very well the trauma and bewilderment on her face. I wish him health, recovery, privacy and patience. “
Rezaian said governments around the world must pressure Iran to abandon its hostage diplomacy practice.
“It is high time that democratic allies, indeed all responsible governments, work together to end state-sponsored hostage-taking once and for all, starting with Iran, long the most egregious offender in the world. of this barbarous practice. “
Friends and colleagues of Moore-Gilbert who had been campaigning for her freedom said while “on the moon” on her release “let’s be clear, this should never have happened.”
“Kylie was held for ransom by the Iranian regime who saw fit to take an innocent Australian woman hostage to take home its own convicted prisoners abroad,” the campaign group said. said in a statement. “It is a despicable business model with incalculable human consequences.”
Morrison left open the possibility that a renewed nuclear deal with Iran, singled out for possible revitalization by US President-elect Joe Biden, would be used to pressure Iran to halt state-sanctioned hostage-taking. Australia is not part of the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but supports its revival after it was abandoned by the Trump administration.
“We have said openly that we believe that improvements can be made to that [agreement] … we would welcome any improvement that leads to more legal behavior from states like Iran. “
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