PM refuses to confirm Iran prisoner swap

Kylie Moore-Gilbert has thanked Australian diplomats and supporters after her release in Iran.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert has thanked Australian diplomats and supporters after her release in Iran.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm if an Australian academic was released from Iran as part of a prisoner swap for terrorists.

Kylie Gilbert-Moore is finally free after 804 days behind bars and will soon be reunited with her family in Australia.

While Mr Morrison said no prisoner was released from Australia, he was tight-lipped about detainees in other parts of the world.

"The Australian government doesn't acknowledge or confirm any such arrangement regarding any release of any other persons in any other places," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

"If other people are being released in other places, they are the decisions of the sovereign governments in those places."

Iranian media claims three of the country's citizens were released on Thursday in exchange for Dr Gilbert-Moore.

Other reports suggest the men had been behind bars in Thailand since 2012 on charges of having planned to bomb Bangkok and assassinate Israeli diplomats.

Dr Moore-Gilbert thanked the Australian government and diplomats for securing her release, as well as supporters who campaigned for her freedom.

"It has meant the world to me to have you behind me throughout what has been a long and traumatic ordeal," she said.

The Middle Eastern studies lecturer said it was bittersweet to depart Iran, despite the injustices she was subjected to.

"I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people," she said.

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

Mr Morrison said he spoke with Dr Gilbert-Moore shortly before she was released.

"I have always believed in miracles and I'm just thankful for this one as well," he said.

Dr Moore-Gilbert's family thanked those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure her freedom.

"We are relieved and ecstatic with the release of Kylie after over 800 days of incredible hardship. We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness that each of us feel at this incredible news," they said.

"We also thank the public for their interest and concern but ask that Kylie and us, her family, are given the space needed to re-adjust and re-acclimatise after such a traumatic experience."

Friends and colleagues of Dr Moore-Gilbert are over the moon.

"An innocent woman is finally free. Today is a very bright day in Australia indeed," they said in a statement.

Dr Moore-Gilbert was a lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was arrested at a Tehran airport while trying to leave the country after a conference in 2018.

She was sent to Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

Dr Moore-Gilbert vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

She wrote a series of letters to the prime minister from prison, saying she had been locked up "to extort" the Australian government.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described her detention as outrageous.

"It's outrageous, very clearly, that the Iranian government has used this situation, effectively as a hostage situation," he told reporters in Sydney

International pressure had been building on Iran to release Dr Moore-Gilbert.

She went on repeated hunger strikes and her health had deteriorated during long stretches in solitary confinement.

In recent months, she was transferred to the remote Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, as fears escalated over the spread of the coronavirus in the country's notoriously crowded prisons.

Australian Associated Press