Terror,loneliness,a lovesick guard:Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s 804 days in a Tehran jail

Her cell was disgusting,the food barely edible,humiliation constant. A Revolutionary Guard fell in love with her,while back home,her husband romanced her PhD supervisor. Melbourne academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert recalls life as a suspected spy in a brutal Iranian jail.

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Kylie Moore-Gilbert reached a tipping point after seven months behind bars,tackling an Australian ambassador’s legs to try to stop him leaving a meeting in jail.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert reached a tipping point after seven months behind bars,tackling an Australian ambassador’s legs to try to stop him leaving a meeting in jail.Josh Robenstone

For afternoon tea,Kylie Moore-Gilbert has made a Middle Eastern treat known as Persian Love Cake. The ingredients include rosewater,cardamom and lemon zest. She has scattered the icing with crushed green pistachios and dried rose petals. Slices of this fragrant confection sit before us on the table as she talks about the psychological impact of languishing in a notorious Tehran prison. In short,it seriously messes with your head. “Luckily,I’m a strong person,” she says. “Some people would have been extremely damaged for life.”

Moore-Gilbert went to Iran in late August 2018 to attend a seminar on Shia Islam. After checking in to her return flight to Australia three weeks later,she wasarrested and charged with being a spy. Despite her protests that she was merely an academic,employed by the University of Melbourne as a lecturer in Islamic studies,she was thrown into a high-security hellhole run by Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guard Corps. Thus began an ordeal that lasted more than two years and often felt like a waking nightmare.

To meet Moore-Gilbert,now 34,is to be struck by her composure and affability. She is warm. Polite. Looks you in the eye when she speaks to you. Eats her cake with a fork. It is a matter of some satisfaction to her that despite the cruelties and indignities heaped on her in jail,she didn’t completely fall apart. Most of the time,she managed to keep her act together.

“Most of the time,” she emphasises. “Not always.”

Everyone has a tipping point,and one day in April 2019,after about seven months’ incarceration,Moore-Gilbert reached hers. “It was like an out-of-body experience when it was happening,” she says. That morning,a guard had collected her from her cell and taken her to a meeting room within the prison. Awaiting her there,along with Iranian officials,was Ian Biggs,then Australia’s ambassador to Iran. Moore-Gilbert had found Biggs formal and detached during their previous encounters,but nonetheless was pleased to see him. What concerned her was the presence of a video camera mounted on a tripod. Her jailers had previously pressured her into making statements in front of a camera. She didn’t want her conversation with Biggs recorded.

The way she tells it,she turned her body away from the lens and said she refused to be filmed. The most senior of the Iranians reacted angrily. Through an interpreter,he declared the meeting finished and asked Biggs to leave. At which stage,something inside Moore-Gilbert snapped.

“This meeting isn’t over!” she shouted,launching herself at the startled ambassador. “It’s not over until I say it’s over!” Diving to the floor,she wrapped her arms around Biggs’s calves in a decent approximation of a rugby tackle. “Mr Biggs,” she said,“please continue. What did you come here to tell me?”

As she recalls,Biggs made a tentative attempt to rise from his chair,but she maintained her grip and he sat down again. “Please ignore these f…ers,” she said to him. “Tell me,what is the government doing to get me out?”

To his credit,Biggs tried to answer her question despite the Iranians’ increasingly strident insistence that he depart. “Ignore them,” said Moore-Gilbert,who could feel through the trousers of the diplomat’s dark suit that his calves were surprisingly well-muscled. “He must have been a runner or something,” she tells me,adding that she still can’t believe what she said to him next:“Nice legs!”

I confess to her that I laughed out loud when I read that remark in her book,The Uncaged Sky,to be published next week. “Poor Ian Biggs,” she says,
smiling ruefully. “It was so surreal. He laughed too.”

Moore-Gilbert in Iran where she’d travelled for a conference.

Moore-Gilbert in Iran where she’d travelled for a conference.Courtesy of Kylie Moore-Gilbert


Shortly before going to Iran,Moore-Gilbert had bought an old weatherboard house in the Dandenong Ranges,an hour’s drive east of Melbourne. It has polished timber floors and a calm,uncluttered feel. A wide deck overlooks a forested slope. She had intended to return to live here with her husband,Russian-Israeli university student Ruslan Hodorov,but that isn’t the way things worked out. When she was released in November 2020 after 804 days in captivity,she learnt that Hodorov was having an affair with
her close friend and Melbourne University colleague,Kylie Baxter.

The last damned straw,you would imagine. “It was a shock to me,the affair,” she concedes. For some time,though,she had sensed that Hodorov’s commitment to their marriage was waning. When she first spoke to him from jail,he was highly emotional,but in later calls he seemed distant and distracted. “In his defence,” she says,“he did go through a hard time,too. He did care about me in the beginning,and he was quite traumatised.”

Which doesn’t mean she is letting him off the hook. As Moore-Gilbert demonstrated at the meeting with Ian Biggs,when her bottled-up rage at the Revolutionary Guards boiled over,her tolerance extends only so far.

“Motherf…ers!” she remembers yelling as a female guard tried to prise her off the ambassador’s lower limbs. “Arseholes! Don’t you f…ing touch me!” By contrast,she speaks to me of Hodorov with studied indifference. “I’m happier without him,” she says. “So,you know,good riddance.”

What Moore-Gilbert doesn’t want to do is paint her now ex-husband as a villain. Life is complicated,as the last few years have brought home to her. Even in her captors she saw redeeming features:a few showed her kindness at risk to themselves. “My proximity to the Revolutionary Guards taught me that sometimes good people do bad things,” she writes in her book. It occurs to me that there’s a flip side,equally pertinent to her story. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.


The first intimation that she was in trouble came from the receptionist at her Tehran hotel. A group of men – “like police” – had come to the desk and asked about her while she was out,he said. Unnerved,Moore-Gilbert thought perhaps she should call the Australian embassy,but on its website she could find no phone number. She was leaving Iran the next day anyway,and she figured she had no real reason to worry:“If someone wants to ask questions,that’s fine because I have nothing to hide.”

At the airport,she was plucked out of the passport-control queue and taken to a room filled with men wearing black. They demanded to know her reason for visiting Iran. Moore-Gilbert fought to keep her voice steady as she explained that an Iranian university had invited her to a seminar. Melbourne University had agreed she could go,and the Iranian embassy in Canberra had approved her visa application. Trying not to panic,she told herself the whole thing was a ridiculous mistake and she would soon be strapping herself into an airline seat,homeward bound.

Moore-Gilbert’s flight left without her. She was interrogated at a hotel for a week,then blindfolded and driven to a walled compound she later learnt was Tehran’s Evin Prison,infamous for its brutal treatment of political prisoners. Her windowless cell measured two metres by two metres. “The terror of it all,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know where I was,or who’d arrested me,or what the hell was going on. I was afraid they would rape me,or physically torture me.”

“There’s no logic or rationality. Paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories fuel the way they see the world.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was formed after the country’s 1979 revolution,to defend the new Islamic republic from both internal and external threats. The IRGC has its own army,navy and air force,independent of the regular military. It wields immense political and economic power. Moore-Gilbert now believes she was brought to the attention of the IRGC’s intelligence branch by a dual citizen of Iran and Bahrain she had met and interviewed while at the conference. (She’d written her PhD thesis on Bahrain’s Shiite community and was doing follow-up research.) That her husband was from Israel – Iran’s arch-enemy – was enough to convince the men in black that she was a spy. Or that her husband was a spy. Or that they were both spies.

“There’s no logic or rationality,” she says. “Paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories fuel the way they see the world.”

At Evin,she learnt that it wasn’t physical assault she needed to fear. In the women’s unit of the prison,mental torture was the preferred method of punishment. Moore-Gilbert spent a cumulative total of 12 months in solitary confinement,most of it in a space only slightly larger than the first cell. “It’s sensory deprivation,essentially,” she says,“and it puts so much pressure on your brain that you have to develop a coping mechanism,like slowing everything down and closing your eyes and just inhabiting your memories.”

Day after day,she lay on the floor in a trance-like state,letting her mind roam through her past. She knew this survival technique didn’t work for everyone:“Some people just can’t switch off and they do go crazy. You can hear them screaming;banging themselves against the walls. When you’re in your cell listening to that,it’s traumatising.”

“You have to develop a coping mechanism,like slowing everything down and closing your eyes and just inhabiting your memories.”

In her experience,solitary confinement causes selective amnesia. “If someone asked you what songs were on your Spotify list last year,what movies you saw at the cinema recently,anything like that,you would have no idea. But your long-term memory is suddenly sharpened and you can remember stuff from your childhood.” For her,that meant being transported back to the regional NSW city of Bathurst,where her family lived from the time she was nine. In her head,she was no longer in a fluorescent-lit cubicle,staring at chipped grey tiles and peeling paint. She was in the backyard with her sister,Belinda,climbing gum trees under a clear Australian sky.

Moore-Gilbert was taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison,infamous for its brutal treatment of political prisoners. Her windowless cell measured two metres by two metres.

Moore-Gilbert was taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison,infamous for its brutal treatment of political prisoners. Her windowless cell measured two metres by two metres.


Sporty,studious,creative,pretty, Moore-Gilbert was a kid who seemed destined to go far. Her mother,Jenny,was a secretary,and her father,Lindsay,worked in a factory. The oldest of their three children,she was dux in her final year at Bathurst’s All Saints’ College. In her favourite subject,art,she got the highest marks in the state. There was a gentleness about her. “Even from a very young age,she was kind and understanding and full of empathy,” says her old friend,Yasodai Selvakumaran.

After school,Moore-Gilbert headed for the UK – she has dual citizenship,courtesy of her father – and spent several years working casual jobs to finance backpacking holidays. She then enrolled in Asian and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Cambridge,graduating with first-class honours in 2013.

During the course,she lived for 12 months in Israel,where she met Hodorov. He accompanied her when she returned to Australia in 2014 to do her PhD at Melbourne University. (Kylie Baxter was her PhD supervisor.) Moore-Gilbert converted to Judaism and married Hodorov in 2017,less than a year before

her trip to Iran. When she was arrested,her phone and computer were confiscated,but during the week of interrogation in the hotel she furtively borrowed a laptop and fired off some emails. “I love you very much. I love you ridiculously!” she wrote to her husband,adding,“Please don’t worry,
I have my wits about me and I am strong.” She also wrote to her mother,Jenny,saying she hoped to be home in a few days,but if not,and Jenny hadn’t heard from her,to please call the embassy.

Her grandmother,Marjorie Cameron,who lives in a retirement village at Laurieton,on the NSW Mid North Coast,vividly remembers getting the news that she was being held in Iran. “Jenny came up to see me and she told me,” says Cameron,now 97. “And look,I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe that could happen.” Like other family members,she was sworn to silence. “Jenny said,‘The government doesn’t want us to let anybody know that Kylie has been detained in prison,because if it gets into the press,it might interfere with the negotiations.’ ” Cameron,a devout Anglican,asked if she could at least confide in her minister. “I just had to have somebody to talk to,” she tells me,“and I needed somebody else to pray for Kylie.”

Moore-Gilbert with Gran Marjorie and mum Jenny,just after her release.

Moore-Gilbert with Gran Marjorie and mum Jenny,just after her release.Courtesy of Kylie Moore-Gilbert


In the beginning,Moore-Gilbert’s despair and confusion were compounded by her inability to understand the orders her jailers barked at her. She had studied two Middle Eastern languages,Arabic and Hebrew,but not the Iranian language,Farsi. “Not knowing what they were saying to me,not being able to communicate,that was just horrible,” she says. Nevertheless,she resisted making any serious attempt to learn. “I didn’t want to study Farsi because that would mean acknowledging to myself that I would be there for a long time.” When after six months she finally bit the bullet,and Ian Biggs brought her an English-Farsi dictionary and grammar book,“it became a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a goal,and something to do.”

The battle to hold on to a sense of purpose was ongoing,because everything about life in the political prisoners’ section of Evin was designed to crush the inmates’ spirits. Whenever Moore-Gilbert stepped out of her cell,she had to put on a blindfold. For a trip to the clinic inside the prison grounds,she would be handcuffed. She wasn’t permitted to wear a bra under her prison uniform of a pink knee-length coat and baggy pink pants. “It was a deliberate strategy of humiliation,” she says. “Dehumanisation,also.”

Whenever Moore-Gilbert stepped out of her cell,she had to put on a blindfold. For a trip to the clinic inside the prison grounds,she would be handcuffed.

Each prisoner was assigned a number. To Moore-Gilbert’s chagrin,guards often addressed her as 97029 rather than use her name. “I’d always say,‘I’m a human being! I’m not a number.’ ” As proof of her existence,she sometimes sang at the top of her voice,belting out the collected works of Destiny’s Child,say,or the entire Amy Winehouse albumBack to Black. Inevitably,the wretchedness of her situation gradually wore her down. She didn’t attempt suicide,as was later reported,but she certainly thought about it. “My understanding of myself as a unique human being with a personality and a character,with likes and dislikes,with talents,with a moral compass,with dreams and ambitions,slowly diminished,” she writes in her book. “I was losing myself. I was becoming 97029.”

The food was barely edible and the squalor deeply disheartening. Moore-Gilbert tells me she never got over her horror at the “filthy,disgusting,squat toilet that hadn’t been cleaned for god knows how many months,if ever. They said,‘We can’t give you cleaning chemicals because you’ll drink them and kill yourself.’ I said,‘You clean it then.’ My first hunger strike,that was one of my demands:‘I want someone to pour bleach into the toilet.’ ”

She went on seven hunger strikes in all. The first 48 hours were usually the hardest,she says. After that,the stomach cramps subsided and her blood pressure fell to the point where she passed the time dozing. She realised she was risking permanent damage to her health,but starving herself was quite an effective way of getting the prison bosses’ attention. Also,the strikes gave her a feeling of empowerment,as if she had some measure of control over her fate. Deep down,she knew that this was an illusion. In truth,her fate was in the hands of the man she knew as Qazi Zadeh. “He had complete and utter power over me.”


Ibrahim Qazi Zadeh – which she’s sure wasn’t his real name – was an enigmatic figure. Though he was wholly in charge of Moore-Gilbert’s case,she never completely understood his larger role in the regime. He was head of legal affairs in the IRGC’s intelligence branch,as far as she knew,but seemed to have his finger in many pies. Moore-Gilbert describes him as tall,broad-shouldered and completely bald,with striking blue-green eyes. He had a deep,melodic voice,and unlike most Revolutionary Guards,wore good suits.

The other thing about Qazi Zadeh? “He was a psychopath. A 100 per cent,genuine,bona fide psychopath. Extremely intelligent. Always operating on multiple levels,playing multiple games,manipulating everybody,including his own colleagues.”

He would taunt Moore-Gilbert,telling her,for instance,that Australian embassy staff knew she was guilty,or assuring her that she would be buried in Iran. At other times he would play good cop,claiming he was on her side and that he would organise her release if only she agreed to switch allegiances and spy for the Islamic Republic. “It was this weird relationship,” says Moore-Gilbert,who came to realise that he had a crush on her. More than that,actually. “He was in love with me. It was clear to everyone,not just me.”

The knowledge was useful to her:“I was always trying to leverage that weakness in him – his partiality for me – to benefit myself.” But her response wasn’t entirely cold-blooded. She admits she felt a real connection with him.

On his frequent visits to the prison,“We had a lot of intellectual conversations,and flirty banter was going on as well,” she says. “It was probably Stockholm syndrome.” Loneliness no doubt came into it,too. “I was in solitary. I had nobody else to talk to.”

Qazi Zadeh was appalled by Moore-Gilbert’s behaviour during the meeting with Biggs. In Iran,women aren’t supposed to shake hands with men to whom they’re not related,much less seize them around the legs. Neither are they supposed to hurl sweary abuse at Revolutionary Guards. As retribution,he cut her off from the outside world,stopping consular visits and prohibiting phone calls. Books that Biggs had delivered were withheld from her. The crackdown was a strategic error,in Moore-Gilbert’s view. Rather than have a chastening effect,it made her more defiant. “I wasn’t afraid of them any more,” she says. “They couldn’t take anything away from me:I’d already been banned from everything. I had nothing to lose.”

A couple of months later,during an exercise period in a prison courtyard,she scaled a two-metre-high corrugated-iron fence and climbed onto the roof of the interrogation building. It was exhilarating to feel the breeze in her hair and the sun on her face. She took in the panoramic view of the sprawling city.

Salaam,Tehraaaaan!” she shouted jubilantly. When guards appeared,she said she would jump off the roof unless access to her books,consular visits and phone calls was restored. She also demanded that she have her day in court. The verdict was a foregone conclusion – she knew she would be found guilty – but she wanted to get the trial behind her.

Abolqasem Salavati,who presided over Moore-Gilbert’s case,is known in Iran as “the hanging judge”. (Dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam,convicted of “spreading corruption on earth” andexecuted in December 2020,was among those he’s sent to the gallows.) Though Moore-Gilbert expected no mercy from Salavati,she was knocked for six when in August 2019 he sentenced her to 10 years’ jail,the maximum term possible,for “cooperation in espionage for the tyrannical Zionist regime”. In the custom of the Islamic Revolutionary Court,she was handed a piece of paper and invited to write a response. “I am still free,” she wrote,“because freedom is an attitude,freedom is a state of mind.”

By this time,Moore-Gilbert had acquired two cell-mates – Niloufar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani who,with six other members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation,had been arrested on espionage charges while filming and researching endangered animals. Moore-Gilbert had grown close to the pair and knew they would support her when she returned from court after the sentencing. What she didn’t predict was that the cell would erupt in a strange kind of celebration. “We were dancing and singing and crying,just an explosion of emotion,” she says. The three women laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks,overwhelmed by the sheer absurdity of their shared plight. “Freedom is an attitude,freedom is a state of mind!” Bayani whooped. “Isn’t that the slogan of one of those luxury watch brands?” (Moore-Gilbert has dedicated her book to Bayani and Kashani,who are still in prison.)

Moore-Gilbert in Iran before her arrest:“My proximity to the Revolutionary Guards taught me that sometimes good people do bad things.”

Moore-Gilbert in Iran before her arrest:“My proximity to the Revolutionary Guards taught me that sometimes good people do bad things.”Courtesy of Kylie Moore-Gilbert


The longer she was in Iran,the less Moore-Gilbert allowed herself to pine for home. “I told myself,‘This is your new life,’ ” she says. “I taught myself not to think about Australia and not to think about my life before I came to Iran,including not thinking about my family,not thinking about my job,just trying to focus on the here and now.” In a way,the ban on phone calls had been a blessing. Her irregular,rushed conversations with her parents always left her distressed,she says,“because they drew me back to my old life. I preferred to keep the wall up and pretend none of it existed.”

As the first anniversary of her arrest approached,Moore-Gilbert’s family was still being told not to talk about it. Marjorie Cameron struggled under the strain:“Going about the day as if everything was okay – it was really hard.”

When people asked after her granddaughter,she kept her answers vague. “I’d say,‘I haven’t heard from her for a while’ or something like that.” Moore-Gilbert tells me her sister took calls from some of her friends,baffled that she no longer responded to their messages and emails. “Belinda would say something really ambiguous,like,‘She’s going through a really hard time at the moment and can’t be in contact,but she’s still your friend.’ ”

“I understand how quiet diplomacy is supposed to work. But the fact was,it had not produced results. Was Kylie home? Was she being treated well? The answer to both questions was no.”

Word had spread quite fast in academic circles,says Australian National University lecturer Jessie Moritz. “But as soon as you found out,you were told to be quiet.” Moritz,based at ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies,initially accepted the need for discretion,given that delicate diplomatic manoeuvring was said to be going on behind the scenes. But as time went by,she and others started wondering whether it mightn’t be better for Moore-Gilbert’s predicament to be publicised. “I understand how quiet diplomacy is supposed to work,” she says. “But the fact was,it had not produced results. Was Kylie home? Was she being treated well? The answer to both questions was no.”

Moore-Gilbert herself was increasingly frustrated by the secrecy surrounding the case. What her colleagues didn’t know was that she had started urging her parents to go to the media within a couple of months of her arrest. Marjorie Cameron understands why they were reluctant to take that step:“It was all so foreign to them. They had no idea. They could only be guided by what the government said was the best way to do it.”

The story of Moore-Gilbert’s incarceration finally broke in September 2019,a year after she’d been arrested. That December,the US-based Centre forHuman Rights in Iran published letters she’d managed to have smuggled out of Evin,in which she said her physical and mental health were deteriorating. She said,too,that she felt abandoned and forgotten. In a letter addressed toPrime Minister Scott Morrison,she wrote:“Please,I beg you to do whatever it takes to get me out.”

Individuals sprang into action. In Wales,a man called Phil started achange.org petition calling for Moore-Gilbert’s release,and more than 250,000 people signed it. A“Free Kylie” website and Facebook group popped up. As the pandemic took off in early 2020,Victorian film and television special effects supervisor John Sanderson found himself part of an online coalition intent on helping Moore-Gilbert in any way it could. Says Sanderson:“We were total strangers to each other,stuck in different countries and time zones in a locked-down world,with nothing but an encrypted group chat and a common objective.”

Lobbying parliamentarians was one method of putting pressure on the Australian government to bring Moore-Gilbert home. Keeping her name in the news was another. When her supporters learnt she had been transferred in mid-2020 toQarchak women’s penitentiary,a grim establishment in the desert east of Tehran,and was running in a tiny prison yard to keep up her morale,they organised a #WeRunWithKylie event to mark the second anniversary of her arrest.

“We had people running in Canada and Qatar and South Africa – just all over the place,” says Sanderson. On her 800th day in prison,the campaigners attached bamboo sticks to 800 blue cardboard butterflies and planted them in the lawn of St Paul’s Cathedral,in the Melbourne CBD. “It was such a huge number of sticks,” says Sanderson,who had bought tomato stakes at Bunnings and cut them into the right sized pieces. “I thought,‘My goodness,each one of these is a day in somebody’s life that they can never get back.’ ”

To mark Moore-Gilbert’s 800th day in prison,campaigners placed 800 cardboard butterflies outside Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

To mark Moore-Gilbert’s 800th day in prison,campaigners placed 800 cardboard butterflies outside Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral.John Sanderson


Three days later, Moore-Gilbert was abruptly removed from her cell and driven to the Revolutionary Guards’ grandiose Tehran headquarters. “She walked into the room understandably looking a little dazed,” remembers Nick Warner,then director-general of Australia’s peak intelligence agency,the Office of National Intelligence. Since soon after Moore-Gilbert’s arrest,Warner had led a team trying to stitch together a deal that would secure her release. A former Australian ambassador to Iran,he still had high-level contacts there. This was the first time he had met Moore-Gilbert. “I gave her a long hug,” he tells me,“and whispered in her ear,‘I’m taking you home.’ ”

After one more night in prison,she was free. Her first stop was the residence of the current Australian ambassador,Lyndall Sachs,where she had a slap-up lunch and her first glass of wine since 2018. Offered coffee,she threw back two cups in quick succession. “She was bubbly,happy,chatty and focused,” Warner recalls. Says Moore-Gilbert:“I was probably tipsy,and high on caffeine.”

At the beginning of that week,an Airbus A319 chartered by the Australian government had flown from Canberra to Tehran,then on to Qatar,where it parked for a day. The next stop was Bangkok,where it picked up three Iranian prisoners – men who had been convicted of the attempted 2012 bombing of Israeli diplomats in Thailand. The Airbus returned them to Tehran. A few hours later,Moore-Gilbert boarded the plane with Warner for the trip home to Australia. She tells me that,even after take-off,she half-expected to be snatched back by the Revolutionary Guards. “Qazi Zadeh had actually said,‘If you’re on a plane,I can make a call and re-route that plane,force it to land.’ Until we left Iranian airspace,I had that nagging fear at the back of my mind.”

Former intelligence boss Nick Warner who helped secure Moore-Gilbert’s release.

Former intelligence boss Nick Warner who helped secure Moore-Gilbert’s release.Louie Douvis

Iran has a history of “hostage diplomacy” – arbitrarily arresting foreign citizens on trumped-up charges and exacting a high price for their release. Moore-Gilbert’s freedom had been granted as part of a prisoner swap:she was exchanged for the three convicted terrorists. The Australian government stands by its handling of the case. Moore-Gilbert’s release was achieved through “careful and considered diplomatic engagement”,says a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In the government’s opinion,“a public media campaign would not have offered the best chance of a positive outcome”.

Moore-Gilbert disagrees. Though she can’t say definitively that public campaigning helped get her out of jail,she strongly suspects it gave new urgency to the negotiations,which she gets the impression had been moving at a glacial pace. She has no doubt the campaigning was responsible for an improvement in the way she was treated in prison. “There was a direct benefit to me of having a spotlight on my conditions,” she says. “I saw that the Revolutionary Guards were responsive to public pressure,even though they claimed they weren’t.”

To Hadi Ghaemi,executive director of the Centre for Human Rights in Iran,there seems no advantage to a hush-hush approach to hostage negotiations. “I have never seen it work,” he says. Ghaemi knows that,for Moore-Gilbert,the story is not over. “We are seeing a lot of innocent lives ruined through these imprisonments. The healing process is very challenging.”

Moore-Gilbert at home in the Dandenong Ranges. She says she has no bitterness towards Iran. “It’s a beautiful country. And ordinary Iranians are wonderful people.”

Moore-Gilbert at home in the Dandenong Ranges. She says she has no bitterness towards Iran. “It’s a beautiful country. And ordinary Iranians are wonderful people.”Josh Robenstone


The house in the Dandenong Ranges is Moore-Gilbert’s haven. She tells me as we drink tea and nibble Persian Love Cake that she worried,while in Iran,about whether her mortgage payments were being made. “Everyone kept saying,‘You’re in prison! Who cares about finances?’ But this was a life I had been building for myself. I saved for a decade to buy this house. I had a scholarship for my PhD but I worked two or three jobs sometimes,to pay for my living expenses during my studies,so I could save all my scholarship for a house deposit.” She runs daily in the surrounding forest,breathing the clean air and savouring the sensation of being embraced by nature.

Nick Warner is hugely impressed by Moore-Gilbert. “An amazing person,” he says. “So strong. So smart. How do you teach yourself Farsi in solitary confinement?” She tells me that another of her mental exercises was committing to memory the events of each day from the time of her arrest. She would pace up and down in her cell for hours,going over and over the details of incidents and conversations. “Memorisation was an intellectual challenge and a way of keeping my brain occupied,” she says. On the plane home,she started jotting it all down. This was the raw material forThe Uncaged Sky.

Writing the book has forced her to re-examine some painful experiences,but the process has had a cathartic side. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened to me,” she says. “Sometimes even dreaming about it. Now I would like to put it to one side and move on.” Moore-Gilbert has no bitterness towards Iran. “It’s a beautiful country,” she says. And ordinary Iranians are wonderful people – “so hospitable and friendly and warm”. Her interest in the Middle East is undiminished. “If anything,I’m more interested in the Middle East.”

Moore-Gilbert’s ex-husband Ruslan Hodorov with his new partner Kylie Baxter.

Moore-Gilbert’s ex-husband Ruslan Hodorov with his new partner Kylie Baxter.Media Mode

Imprisonment has made her reassess her priorities,though,and she has quit her job at the University of Melbourne. “I’m cynical about academia. I love teaching,and I love research. But teaching isn’t valued,and nobody really cares about research. It’s all about chasing the grants,the money. Higher education is just in a terrible state.”

She says in her book that Iran profoundly changed her:“Some of these changes have been positive. I am more confident and assertive,and I am more of a risk-taker. I back myself. But prison has also made me a lot more guarded and emotionally cautious. I am slow to trust,and slow to let people in.” Not that she has turned her back on romance. “I’m dating someone and I’m happy in that new relationship,” she tells me.

Her friends insist she is still the Kylie they have always known. “She’s probably sick of us saying,‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ Because she actually is doing really well,” says Jessie Moritz. Long-time friend Hannah Kunert is slightly more cautious:“If anyone can get over something like this,she’s the one. But I think it will take time.” Moore-Gilbert hasn’t decided what she will do with the rest of her life. “I’m not particularly worried,” she says. “I feel like I’ll just go with the flow and I’ll find something.” Before I leave,she packs the rest of the cake into a plastic container. She insists I take it home with me.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert will feature on60 Minutes on Sunday,March 27. She will speak at theWheeler Centre,Melbourne on March 29 and at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 21.

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Jane Cadzow is a senior writer with Good Weekend magazine.

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