LONDON: A British-Australian woman serving a 10-year jail term in Iran has been transferred to a notorious desert prison used to punish political prisoners, officials say.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Middle East politics at Melbourne University, was jailed in September 2018 for espionage. She was tried in secret and strongly denies all charges against her.
Moore-Gilbert had been held at Evin prison in Tehran before being transferred to the notorious Qarchak prison, located in the desert east of the capital.
The Human Rights’ Activists News Agency (HRANA) said Qarchak has the worst reputation among all Iranian women’s prisons.
It is often used as punishment for Iranian political prisoners, and its conditions have been described as abysmal by former inmates.
“Qarchak jail is where common prisoners are held. It’s overcrowded and some of them are dangerous,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Prior to her transfer, Moore-Gilbert had been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes.
She is said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners by passing notes and writing to them on prison walls.
She had also rejected an offer of freedom in return for spying on behalf of Iran. “I am not a spy,” she said in letters smuggled out of prison in January.
“I have never been a spy and I have no interest to work for a spying organization in any country.”
Ghaemi said: “They’re not happy with her resilience and her refusal to cooperate.”
Prevented from contacting her family, conditions in the desert prison are taking a heavy toll on the jailed academic’s mental health.
“I think I am in the midst of a serious psychological problem,” she wrote in January, worsened by “the ban on having any phone calls with my family.”
Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, said in a Facebook post that Moore-Gilbert is in “a very bad condition.”
He wrote that she had told him: “I can’t eat anything, I don’t know, I’m so disappointed. I’m so very depressed.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “Dr Moore-Gilbert’s case is one of the Australian government’s highest priorities, including for our embassy officials in Tehran.”
The Australian government has said it holds Iran responsible for Moore-Gilbert’s “safety and well-being,” and is “urgently seeking access” to her.
Iran frequently imprisons foreign nationals on dubious grounds. British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Evin prison since 2016 for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.” She also vehemently denies these charges.