BKylie Moore-Gilbert, on Australian soil and safe in a state of emergency in the Covid Quarantine, is on a calm, long road to recovery, with another victim saying foreign nationals are being held hostage in Iran.
Ana Diamond was only 19 years old when the country’s Revolutionary Guard seized her in 2016, was held in solitary confinement for 200 days, and was forced to endure a mocking execution for baseless allegations because she was a foreign spy.
Diamond said that while Moore-Gilbert looked good in the video footage and is said to be in a “good mood,” he will find regaining his freedom a challenge after his week-long ordeal in Iranian prisons ended this week.
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been practicing and perfecting state hostage-taking for many decades, and … their tactics have become quite sophisticated,” said Diamond, a former dual Iranian and Finnish citizen who currently resides in Britain. “The detainee’s body no longer shows traces of grotesque visual and physical violence … much of the damage is internal.
“During my detention, my feelings ranged from hope to self-loathing … it’s very hard to convince yourself that you’re not at fault.”
Diamond also said he thought Moore-Gilbert, an expert on Bahrain politics at the University of Melbourne, was challenging to communicate her feelings without hesitation and self-censorship.
“I struggled a lot with the feeling of self-blame – for experiencing my loved ones, for the inconvenience caused … but also for the guilt of survival: after my release I realized that I was not an isolated case and that there were more than 30 known cases of dual and foreign nationals they were taken hostage in the same prison from which they could come out to me. “
Last year, in addition to former prisoners and family members, Diamond helped launch the Alliance against State Hostages at the UN General Assembly, which aimed to “create a legal avenue for Iran’s accountability for brutal human rights abuses and the deliberate and planned abduction of foreign nationals.”
It was targeted by foreign academics
Dozens of dual and foreign nationals are currently being held in Iranian prisons, including Iranian-Swedish scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, who was sentenced to death three months ago and will soon be executed. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian arrested in 2016, is under house arrest at his parents ’home in Tehran.
Several of Moore-Gilbert’s colleagues said his capture caused a cold in the Australian and global academic communities. It was a “there, but by the grace of God” moment, they said, and he could have touched any of them.
Moore-Gilbert traveled from Australia to Iran to attend a conference in Qom to which he was invited, said his friend and colleague Dr. Jessie Moritz.
“It wasn’t an exceptional thing,” he said. “Our whole job is to go through these countries – we’re not ivory tower academics, we’re on the field, meeting people to understand these countries.”
Iranian observers have seen foreign academics increase.
“Journalists and human rights activists have already been arrested, domestic academics have already been arrested, international journalists have been fired, and basically we are following,” Moritz said.
Moore-Gilbert is a dual British-Australian citizen but traveled with an Australian passport, making it Australia’s consular responsibility.
Australia, unlike other Western democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, has maintained an embassy in Iran since 1967, which has a deeper relationship with the opaque Iranian administration.
From the moment Moore-Gilbert was seized to Tehran Airport in September 2018 to return home, the Australian government has pursued a policy of ‘silent diplomacy’. His family, friends and colleagues were kept secret and his case remained in public for almost a full year until two other Australians were also taken away (Mark Firkin and Jolie King were released within four months).
But as media and public interest increased and there was political pressure around Moore-Gilbert’s case, the Australian government didn’t say much.
Australian Foreign Secretary Marise Payne – who was simple in her public comments on the case – is said to have played a central role in the strategy, as did Canberra’s Ambassador to Tehran, Lyndall Sachs.
Australia’s national intelligence director, Nick Warner, was also closely involved in concluding Moore-Gilbert’s release. The former Iranian ambassador of the 1990s was instrumental in the release of another Australian hostage, Douglas Wood, who was arrested in Iraq in 2005.
Diplomatic sources said Moore-Gilbert’s release was not a direct exchange, or even finding a third country with a bargain of interest to Iran.
Rather, it was a piece-by-piece deal that “every party can live with and get the result”. There was progress, but there were also setbacks.
Complicating was Moore-Gilbert’s husband, who had Israeli citizenship, and sparked unfounded rumors about his relationship with “Israeli military intelligence”. No evidence of this has ever been provided.
Outside the inner circle, there was growing concern and frustration.
“Diplomats have time,” he told The Guardian during the detention of a person in the wake of Moore-Gilbert’s case. “Kylie doesn’t: she has a person at the center of it, and every day she’s held there does harm, harm to anyone who eventually walks free.”
But in the opaque world, the wheels revolved around the various axes of control and influence of the Iranian government — the often conflicting relationship between the elected government and the urban-faced Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif; the hard-line Revolutionary Guard who physically held Moore-Gilbert; and the judiciary, a center of its own power that condemned.
The agreed agreement was complicated and ultimately affected the interests of four countries. Australia wanted its citizen back. Iran had to make sure it gave up the wealth it considered valuable. Thailand must agree to release from prison, three men who allegedly took part in a bomb attack in Bangkok eight years ago. And Israel also had a stake: its diplomats were the targets of the Iranian abortion in Bangkok.
Iranian state media this week showed footage of three men – Saeid Moradi, Mohammad Kharzei, Massoud Sedaghatzadeh – returning to Iran receiving flower garlands covered with a national flag. Accompanying reports said Iran was planning an “exchange” against Moore-Gilbert, who had been painted as a spy and was tied to Israel and MI6.
No evidence of Moore-Gilbert’s alleged crimes was ever made public. He has denied the allegations against him and the Australian government considers them unfounded.
State TV IRIB aired a short video with dramatic music and lighting effects in which Moore-Gilbert leaves Tehran on Wednesday. He wears a face mask and headscarf as he sees him talking to officials and traveling by bus before boarding his tail on an Australian-flagged plane. He made a brief statement, speaking in Farsi, detailing his travels in the region, including the “Zionist regime,” as Iran mentions Israel.
Moore-Gilbert flew home to begin a two-week mandatory quarantine in Australia. It goes without saying that it allows a limited number of visitors into quarantine, which takes place in a non-public place. He receives medical and psychological support.
Ana Diamond called on Moore-Gilbert to move slowly.
“I just hope you never feel lonely, and you don’t think you’ve ever been alone in this.” We are just on one call, like with his family and colleagues, and we do everything we can to help him. But he’s only upstairs from here, the calm after the storm, and he’s safe now.