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Hopes for Kylie Moore-Gilbert after detained academic moved out of Iran’s Qarchak prison

Detained British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has reportedly been moved from Iran’s Qarchak prison, along with all of her belongings, but it is not known to where she has been taken.

Family and friends who have been campaigning for her release hope the move is a positive sign, but there is no official word from the Iranian government.

A Cambridge-educated Middle East scholar, Moore-Gilbert has served just over two years of a 10-year sentence for espionage. She was arrested in Tehran in September 2018 and convicted in a secret trial.

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 baseless and politically motivated.

The Iranian Association of Human Rights Activists reported Moore-Gilbert was moved on Saturday – along with all her possessions – to an unknown place.

That move came 11 days after she was shifted, along with 15 other political prisoners, to Ward Eight of Qarchak prison, formerly known as the Mothers’ Ward.

Qarchak has been trying to quash an outbreak of novel coronavirus among inmates and guards at the prison. Iran, more widely, is suffering under a surging third wave of infections, with nearly 600 new cases and more than 300 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Moore-Gilbert’s health has been poor in detention and she has had difficulty getting food that she can tolerate.

But sources with knowledge of Iranian detention cases are cautiously hopeful the move could be good news in Moore-Gilbert’s case.

“Obviously one hopes the move might be good news for Kylie, but we don’t know yet,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch.

“Kylie has been detained for more than two years now, and she has endured very difficult conditions including extreme isolation. The Australian government should press forcefully and consistently for Kylie’s release and safe return to Australia.”

Moore-Gilbert spent the first 22 months of her incarceration in Tehran’s Evin prison, including months in solitary confinement, before being moved to the desert prison Qarchak, widely regarded as the worst women’s prison in Iran, and known as a site of extrajudicial killings, torture and other rights violations.

Sources have told the Guardian Moore-Gilbert was closely watched inside Qarchak – with two fellow prisoners assigned to follow her – restricting her contact with the outside world.

Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, has met with Moore-Gilbert in Qarchak and urged more regular consular access.

In letters smuggled out of prison, Moore-Gilbert revealed she had rejected an offer to spy on behalf of Tehran in exchange for her freedom, but said she felt “abandoned and forgotten”.

In a rare phone call earlier this year she said couldn’t eat anything in Qarchak: “I feel so very hopeless … I am so depressed.”

On Friday, Human Rights Watch said Iranian judiciary authorities were prosecuting human rights defenders for reporting abuse inside detention, despite the presidential cabinet ordering its justice minister investigate claims of torture against an environmental conservationist, Niloufar Bayani. There has been no report.

Born in Bathurst, New South Wales, Moore-Gilbert is a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne. She hold both British and Australian citizenship, but was travelling on her Australian passport.

She was arrested in September 2018 after attending an academic conference in Qom.

Fellow conference delegates and an interview subject for her academic work flagged her as “suspicious” to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who arrested her at Tehran airport as she prepared to fly out of the country.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said their efforts to secure Moore-Gilbert’s release were “an absolute priority”.

“We remain focused on her health, wellbeing and safety,” a spokeswoman said.

“We do not accept the charges upon which Dr Moore-Gilbert was convicted, and want to see her returned to Australia as soon as possible. Our Ambassador in Tehran has regular consular access to Dr Moore-Gilbert.”

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