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?
Kylie's students think the world of her
“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.” – Undergraduate student, University of Melbourne
“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.” – Undergraduate student, University of Melbourne
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.
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.
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.”
Why are we campaigning?
The Australian government maintains that quiet and behind-the-scenes diplomacy is the only way to secure Kylie’s release, but after 804 days with no progress in securing Kylie’s release, we believe that it is time to acknowledge that the approach has failed.
Our campaign of Kylie’s colleagues and friends first went public in late July 2020, after it emerged that Kylie had been transferred to Qarchak prison in the desert outside Tehran, unbeknownst to the Australian government. That this transfer took place, despite the Australian government’s assurances that its ‘quiet’ diplomatic approach was working, was deeply concerning.
Qarchak prison is widely viewed as the worst prison in Iran. As a former chicken farm, it is over-crowded, is known for serious violence within the prison population, and is the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak. During the three months Kylie spent in the prison, there were periods in which she was reported to not have access to safe drinking water or food.
In October 2020, Kylie was again moved without the Australian government’s knowledge. After six days of being unable to confirm her location, the government advised that she had been returned back to Evin prison, likely to solitary confinement. We issued a statement pointing out that this return to Evin showed that Kylie’s case was back at square one after more than two years.
It is in light of this that we are calling on the Australian government to:
- Seek more regular visits from the Ambassador to monitor her welfare and ensure she has sufficient food, water and reading material
- Summon the Iranian Ambassador to Australia to express Australia’s disgust at the treatment of an Australian citizen
- Escalate Kylie’s case to make it a top government priority
- Reassess the current approach to Kylie’s case
- Explore all possible diplomatic options to bring Kylie home
We respect Kylie’s family and DFAT’s decision to pursue a ‘quiet’ diplomatic approach. But the current approach has so far won it very little leverage over Kylie’s case, and her situation has gone from bad to worse.
We 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!