Who is Kylie?
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert grew up in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, in Bathurst and in 2005 she was the dux of All Saints College. After taking time to travel overseas, Kylie commenced an undergraduate degree, specialising in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. She graduated with first class honours in 2013. Kylie then commenced PhD studies at the University of Melbourne, completing in 2017 with her dissertation “Shiʿi opposition and authoritarian transition in contemporary Bahrain: the shifting political participation of a marginalised majority”.
After obtaining her doctorate, Kylie became a Melbourne Early Career Academic Fellow and Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, specialising in Middle Eastern politics, with a particular focus on Bahrain. Much of Bahrain’s opposition lives in Iran. You can read some of her fantastic work here.
Why did Kylie choose to become an academic?
What do her students say?
Kylie is a popular teacher at the University of Melbourne. One of her students wrote to us with some recollections:
“Kylie was my tutor during my undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne, but she has since become one of the greatest mentors I’ve had in my academic career. As her student, Kylie pushed me to think deeply and challenge my understanding of the world through my assignments, introducing me to the struggles and rewards of dedicated academic work. She then encouraged me to go back for my master’s degree, wrote letters of recommendation and counselled me when I doubted my place in the field. She has listened to my personal troubles, insecurities and self-doubt and reassured me of my worth with understanding and kindness. She constantly inspires me with her integrity as a dedicated mentor and as a rigorous, insightful academic. Kylie’s sincerity, passion, intelligence and diligence are immutable. She could not mean more to me as a mentor, and could not inspire me more as an academic.”
“When I first met Kylie, it was after she’d given an essay of mine a pretty scathing review. Never in my life had I received such thorough feedback – from the placement of a comma, to the holes she picked in my central argument, Kylie not only examined every detail but also gave me extensive feedback on how to improve. This was the kind of diligence and care I am sure Kylie would have given to all her students but nevertheless, I was in awe that she would take so much time and patience with me before we’d ever met. It was abundantly clear from this first interaction just how intelligent Kylie is – it was only later that I discovered that this academic rigor was matched with genuine kindness. For instance, although Kylie was not my direct supervisor during the writing of my Master’s Thesis, she was always happy to make the time to have a chat over a coffee and share her knowledge and ideas. Her warmth and careful insight were immeasurably helpful and her academic achievements at such a young age were, and continue to be, inspiring.”
What happened to Kylie?
In August 2018, Kylie travelled to Iran to attend an academic conference on Iranian culture and history in the city of Qom, about 140kms south of Tehran. It is thought that a fellow conference delegate reported her to the Iranian authorities, who arrested her at Tehran airport as she attempted to return home on her scheduled flight. Kylie was subsequently convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a secret trial. Kylie had only 20 days to prepare her appeal, which was rejected.
What is her situation now?
Kylie was initially held in dire conditions in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. She was kept in solitary confinement, incarcerated in a 2×3 metre cell without a mattress in the secretive Ward 2A. The Centre for Human Rights in Iran described Kylie’s conditions as “living in a tiny, bathroom-like cell and blindfolded every time she has been taken out.” Ward 2A is synonymous with psychological torture, mock executions, beatings and death.
Ward 2A is operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is a paramilitary organisation established by the Iranian constitution to protect the Islamic Republic, and exists independently of the Iranian army, judiciary and elected leaders. It is less susceptible to international political pressure than the elected arms of the Iranian government, but nonetheless has historically been forced to compromise. High profile prisoners including the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian (US), Princeton PhD student Xijue Wang (US/China) and most recently US Navy veteran Michael White.
Normally after a prisoner has been tried and sentenced, and has exhausted all avenues for appeal, they are transferred out of solitary confinement into a general prison ward with other prisoners, which enables essential social interaction. For some reason, this has not happened for Kylie, who remained in solitary confinement in Ward 2A, despite that her legal process had been completed. Solitary confinement is viewed by the United Nations as tantamount to torture, and has significant health and welfare impacts on prisoners.
Kylie’s situation deteriorated further in July 2020 when it emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak prison in the desert outside Tehran. Qarchak prison is widely viewed as the worst prison in Iran, with Evin described by some activists as a ‘castle’ in comparison to Qarchak. That this transfer took place, despite the Australian government’s assurances that its ‘quiet’ diplomatic approach is the most appropriate response to Kylie’s case is deeply concerning.
Reports (read more here) throughout Kylie’s imprisonment have suggested that her health has been significantly impacted by the experience. Kylie is reported to have undertaken numerous hunger strikes, and may have attempted suicide on multiple occasions. In letters smuggled out of Evin prison (read in full here), Kylie warned that her mental and physical health has deteriorated. Reports have also surfaced that suggest that Kylie has suffered from serious physical abuse in Evin prison, requiring medical treatment for injuries to her hands and arms, and has had severe bruising across her body. She is also reported to have been drugged under the directive of Evin’s governor in an effort to make her “compliant,” with one source describing seeing Kylie weak and incoherent, seeming “comatose.”
In one letter (of two) addressed to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Kylie noted that ‘The Australian government thus far has been able to do very little to improve my prison conditions, and has been unable to secure consular access for almost 4 months.’ In another letter to the Deputy Prosecutor for Tehran & Administrator for Political Prisoners at Evin Prison, Amin Vaziri, Kylie complained that the Australian Embassy was not providing the necessary consular assistance that she needs to survive: ‘I never have enough money in my account, because my embassy never transfer me enough money. This has been a consistent problem, even as early as my first meeting with the Australian ambassador 9 months ago.’ This money (estimated to be only AUD$68/month) is crucial because Kylie has serious dietary needs and cannot eat regular prison food. She has also been denied regular contact with her family, or avenues to escalate her complaints through the Iranian prison administration.
We believe that the Australian government needs to do more to pressure Iran for Kylie’s release, and in the meantime to improve her day-to-day living conditions. Academic research is not a crime, and Kylie has done no wrong. Kylie pleaded to Scott Morrison to work harder on her case:
I am writing to you to beseech your government to do more, to make difficult diplomatic decisions if necessary. Yes, you are dealing with a state within a state, but even the Revolutionary Guard are not immune to external political (and particularly economic) pressures. A semi-state actor in a country which Australia has supposedly friendly relations has violated the rights of an innocent Australian citizen, an ordeal which has extended for almost the same length of time that you have occupied the office of Prime Minister.
I beg you to act faster to bring this terrible trauma that myself and my family must live through day after day to a resolution…Please I beg of you to do whatever it takes to get me out.
The Australian government’s quiet diplomatic approach has so far won it very little leverage over Kylie’s case, and her situation has gone from bad to worse.
It is on this basis that we, Kylie’s friends and colleagues, are building a campaign to pressure the Australian government to give DFAT more support and resources to explore options to bring Kylie home. We respect Kylie’s family and DFAT’s decision to pursue a ‘quiet’ diplomatic approach, and hope that this campaign will help provide the political resources and ideas necessary to change the deadlock and bring our wonderful friend home. For this, we need your help!