Iran releases Kylie Moore-Gilbert, British-Australian academic, in exchange for 3 prisoners

She was one of several Westerners held in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges

Iran released British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert on Wednesday, in a prisoner exchange for three Iranians, according to reports.

Moore-Gilbert, 33, one of the most high-profile Western prisoners held by the country, was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges. 

In a statement, she praised the people of Iran and thanked those who had worked for her release.


British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is seen in Tehran, Iran on Nov. 25, 2020. (Iranian State Television via AP)

British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is seen in Tehran, Iran on Nov. 25, 2020. (Iranian State Television via AP)

“I have nothing but respect, love, and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people,” Moore-Gilbert said, according to The Guardian. “It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to."

“I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened," she continued. 

A Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies, Moore-Gilbert was picked up at the Tehran airport and arrested as she tried to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018. She was convicted in a secret trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail for crimes she said she never committed.

“I am an innocent woman,” she wrote to prison authorities last year, the news organization reported. “[And] have been imprisoned for a crime I have not committed and for which there is no real evidence.”

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy and I have no interest in working for a spying 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," she continued. 

The Iranians freed in exchange for Moore-Gilbert were described by Iran state TV as “economic activists” who had been imprisoned for trying to bypass sanctions on the country, although the report failed to elaborate further. They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders and outfits apparently designed to conceal their identities.

Footage showed Moore-Gilbert in a gray hijab sitting in an apparent greeting room at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran before she was later seen getting on an Australian-flagged aircraft, reports said. 

She was one of several Westerners held in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges that activists and U.N. investigators believe is a systematic effort to leverage their imprisonment for money or influence in negotiations with the West, which Iran denies. 


Moore-Gilbert wrote in letters to Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison that she had been imprisoned “to extort” the Australian government.

Morrison, this week, said he was “thrilled and relieved” that Moore-Gilbert was coming home after spending 804 days in detention. While he didn't go into details, the prime minister told Australia’s Network Nine there had been nothing done to prejudice the safety of Australians, and that no prisoners were released in his country.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne described her release as an "absolute priority” for the government and wished her well on her return to Australia. The comment came after Moore-Gilbert went on several hunger strikes while jailed and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her during her time in custody. 

Moore-Gilbert, who was transferred in July to Qarchak prison, a remote jail known to hold the country’s political prisoners, wrote that she was subjected to "psychological torture and spending prolonged periods of time in solitary confinement.”


“No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention,” Payne said.

Fox News' Stephen Sorace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.