‘She’s not a spy’: friends shocked over academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s jailing in Iran | World news

Friends and colleagues of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert – the Australian woman sentenced to a decade in prison in Iran on suspected espionage charges – have praised her as a “thoughtful and passionate academic”, and rejected outright suggestions she was a spy.

The British-Australian academic was arrested by the Iranian regime in September last year and has since been tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The charges are not publicly known, but it is believed they relate to espionage: 10-year sentences are regularly handed down for spying in Iran.

Moore-Gilbert is currently being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, reportedly in solitary confinement. She has had limited consular access from Australian officials, and no contact with her family or friends.

Moore-Gilbert is a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute.

George Rennie, lecturer in politics and lobbying at the University of Melbourne, condemned her arrest by the Iranian regime. “‘Humble’ doesn’t quite do Kylie justice. She was a thoughtful and passionate academic. This is a disgusting reflection on the Iranian dictatorship,” he said online.

David Malet, assistant professor at the American University’s School of Public Affairs, said he was distraught to learn on Moore-Gilbert’s solitary confinement and her prison sentence.

“I served on Kylie’s dissertation committee. She’s a wonderful person and a serious scholar, not a spy.”

Iranian female prisoners inside Evin prison in Tehran, where two women who are dual British-Australian citizens and an Australian man have been detained.

Iranian female prisoners inside Evin prison in Tehran, where Australian-British academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is being held. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Both the British and Australian governments have been trying to keep the identities of their arrested citizens out of the public domain, believing diplomatic efforts to have them released would be more effective if conducted behind closed doors, but others have argued putting a “public face” on those detained will help generate international community and political support, providing further impetus for Iran to negotiate over their release.

Some professional acquaintances did not know Moore-Gilbert been detained. Enrica Fei, a PhD candidate at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, met Moore-Gilbert at a conference last year, describing her as “a lovely, humble woman and bright academic” .

“I wondered for months why she’d stopped replying to my emails and never met in the UK, as we’d agreed.”

In an intervention less likely to soothe diplomatic tensions, US president Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani berated the Iranian regime as terrorists in a post on Twitter.

“Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the third foreign national revealed this week to be imprisoned in Iran. Arrested, charged, and convicted for undisclosed actions. Sentenced to 10 YEARS without any public record of a trial! These are typical actions of the Ayatollah’s #REIGN OF TERROR!”

Moore-Gilbert’s research has drawn her into areas that could be perceived – particularly by an Iranian regime under acute pressure from economic sanctions and deeply suspicious of foreign academics and journalists – as sensitive. She has written extensively about revolutions and activism in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Shia Islam, Bahraini politics and its protest movements.

Moore-Gilbert’s most recent publications have been journal articles and book chapters on Bahrain’s “February 14” pro-democracy youth movement and online opposition activism during Bahrain’s post-Arab Spring crackdown.

Travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin were travelling overland from Perth to London when they were arrested in Iran.

Travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin were travelling overland from Perth to London when they were arrested in Iran. Photograph: Instagram/The Way Overland

At the time she was arrested she held a grant examining “Iran’s relationship with Bahrain’s Shia after the Arab uprisings”. The grant was part of the University of Melbourne’s early career researcher grants scheme.

Moore-Gilbert was dux of All Saints College in Bathurst 2005 and graduated from Cambridge University with honours in Middle Eastern studies in 2013. She finished her PhD in Gulf politics at the University of Melbourne in 2017.

Two other Australians are currently being held in Evin prison.

British-Australian woman, Jolie King, and her Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin were arrested 10 weeks ago near the capital. They have not yet been tried. It is understood the pair were flying a drone – to shoot pictures for a travel blog – near to military installations in Jajrood in Tehran province.

The couple left their home in Perth, Western Australia, in 2017, documenting their travels on a blog called The Way Overland. They planned to drive from Perth to London, documenting their travels for an online travelogue on YouTube and Instagram. Dozens of videos and photographs posted online appear to have been shot using a drone.

While news of the trio’s incarcerations only surfaced in the last week, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said she has raised their cases “many times” with her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The ministers met and discussed the cases as recently as this month, Payne told parliament.

Mark Firkin and Jolie King

Mark Firkin and Jolie King were reportedly flying a drone – to shoot pictures for a travel blog – when they were arrested 10 weeks ago in Iran. Photograph: Facebook/The Way Overland

Payne has denied the arrests were politically motivated, although commentators have speculated the trio may be being held as “bargaining chips”, giving Iran political leverage on a number of ongoing disputes with the western countries, particularly over oil sanctions.

“We have no reason to think that these arrests are connected to international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, United Nations sanction enforcement or maritime security concerning the safety of civilian shipping,” Payne said.

A fourth Australian is currently unable to leave Iran, though not imprisoned.

Dual Iranian-Australian citizen Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, was arrested in December last year as she attempted to leave Iran. A population expert affiliated with Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health, Hosseini-Chavoshi was charged with trying to infiltrate Iranian institutions.

The Guardian understands Hosseini-Chavoshi has been released on bail but is unable to leave the country while her case progresses through the criminal justice system.

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