Iran released a British-Australian scholar, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, detained since 2018 on spying charges, in a prisoner swap conducted Wednesday for three Iranian men who had been held abroad, Iranian official news media reported.
Iran did not reveal the identities of the three citizens it said had been swapped for Moore-Gilbert nor the identity of the country or countries where they had been held. The semiofficial Fars News Agency described the three as “businessmen.”
State television broadcast footage of what it described as the exchange for Moore-Gilbert, who was shown wearing a gray head scarf and a mask, waiting in a room along with another woman. The three Iranian men, draped in Iran’s flag, were seen walking through the door and greeted with flowers and leis to chants of praise for the Prophet Muhammad.
Moore-Gilbert was shown leaving the building via the same door and boarding a minivan with her bags.
Moore-Gilbert was a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne when she went to Iran in 2018 to attend a conference. Agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard arrested her at the airport as she was leaving on charges of spying for Israel.
She was serving a 10-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and staged several hunger strikes in opposition to her conviction and had said her mental state was deteriorating with solitary confinement and prolonged detention.
Iran has a long history of detaining foreign citizens and dual nationals on bogus charges of espionage and swapping them for Iranians incarcerated abroad — particularly those charged with helping Iran violate sanctions.
“Iran has been using hostage-taking as a tool of statecraft for four decades now. The Revolutionary Guards are blatant about it and believe it delivers results,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow with the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Among the tragedies of modern Iran is a society that is famous for its hospitality to foreigners, and a regime which views them as potential assets to be traded.”
The prisoner exchange announced Wednesday came five months after Iran released an American Navy veteran, Michael R. White, as part of a prisoner exchange.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in September that Iran was ready to swap more prisoners with the United States, but he has repeatedly rejected the accusation that his country takes hostages as political pawns and has said the judiciary is independent.
There are currently at least half a dozen foreign and dual nationals held in Iranian prisons: Iranian-American citizens Siamak Namazi, a businessman, and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former official with UNICEF; Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmentalist; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker with the Thomson Reuters Foundation; Nahid Taghavi, a German-Iranian architect; and Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian physician and researcher.
Iran sentenced Jalali to death on charges of spying for Israel, and his family and lawyer in Iran have expressed alarm that he faces imminent execution.