Iran moves detained academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert back to Tehran prison

The detained British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been moved back to Tehran’s Evin prison, sources with knowledge of her case have confirmed to the Guardian.

Moore-Gilbert is understood to be back in the secretive ward 2A of Tehran’s largest prison, where she had spent much of the past two years under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A Cambridge-educated Middle East scholar, Moore-Gilbert was convicted in a secret trial and given a 10-year sentence for espionage after being arrested in September 2018 in Tehran, where she had attended a conference.

She was suddenly removed from Qarchak women’s prison last Saturday, and for days her whereabouts were unknown to family and friends.

Other political prisoners have been moved back to 2A as a prelude to their release, sources have told the Guardian, but there is no firm evidence this is the case with Moore-Gilbert.

Her move could be related to conditions at Qarchak prison or other concerns about her detention, sources said.

Last week Moore-Gilbert met the head of Iran’s Prisons Organisation, Mohammad Mehdi Haj-Mohammadi, and the secretary of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights, Ali Bagheri-Kani, and reportedly raised issues about her incarceration.

After the meeting, reported by Iranian judiciary’s official news agency Mizan, Haj Mohammadi told prison staff they should act to fix shortcomings at Qarchak.

“We understand that a prisoner is a criminal before entering the prison, but after entering the prison, we consider them a needy, capable person deserving of correction and assistance.”

Isolated in the desert outside Tehran, Qarchak is widely regarded as the worst women’s prison in Iran, and known as a site of extrajudicial killings, torture and other rights violations.

But Moore-Gilbert was in good condition in the days before she was moved from her ward in Qarchak, according to activists, including one who shared a cell with her last week.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer and political prisoner, was a close friend of Moore-Gilbert’s when they shared a cell in Evin. Last week Sotoudeh was moved to Qarchak where she was reunited with Moore-Gilbert, Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, told the Guardian on Thursday.

They shared a cell together for about five days, he said. Sotoudeh could say little on their monitored calls, but told him: “She was in a good and comfortable condition in that ward compared with other wards of Qarchak prison and Evin which she had previously been. But unfortunately she spent only a few days in that ward … and then moved.

“They were talking in English,” Khandan said. “[Kylie] was in a good condition in those final days and had someone around to talk to.”

The eyewitness account confirms reports by the Human Rights Activists News Agency that Moore-Gilbert was moved on Saturday with all her possessions.

Iranian activists including Khandan have spoken to contacts inside the public wards of Evin prison, who say Moore-Gilbert has not appeared there.

He said if Moore-Gilbert was in ward 2A, controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, she would have no contact with the outside world.

“Inmates there are either in a single-person cell or two in one cell, and have no phone,” Khandan said. “Prisoners in this ward have no such freedom which they have in other wards. It has very tough restrictions.”

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 Australian foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has said Canberra is “seeking further information” on reports that Moore-Gilbert was moved. She last received a consular visit on 18 October.

A group of friends and supporters of Moore-Gilbert said the reports she had been moved were concerning.

“Thirty-six hours after reports emerged that Kylie was transferred from Qarchak prison to an unknown location, foreign [affairs] minister Marise Payne has acknowledged that the Australian government is ‘seeking further information’,” the FreeKylieMG group said in a statement earlier this week.

“In short, if the reports are true then an Australian citizen has gone missing within the Iranian prison system, despite the careful watch of ‘quiet diplomacy’.”

Sotoudeh, an internationally renowned lawyer, was sentenced last year to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Khandan said she was suffering from a heart condition and he was hoping she would be granted conditional leave to seek treatment at a hospital.