Trapped in Tehran: 804 Days in Evin Prison with Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Australian-British academic freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, addresses the 16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for her remarks.

Full Remarks:

My name is Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert. I have very generously been invited back to the Geneva Summit this year to address you all on the subject of Iran.

As must be pretty obvious to most of us here, I’m not an Iranian. I’ve travelled all the way from Melbourne, Australia and I’m a citizen of both Australia and the UK. I’m not here to speak on behalf of Iranians. I am here, speaking about Iran, because I made a promise.

Some of you may know me as one of the many foreign victims of the Islamic regime’s hostage-taking. I was arrested by Sepah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in September 2018 at Tehran airport, having visited Iran for just over 2 weeks. Scared, confused and alone, I was thrown into the notorious du alef unit of Evin prison, where I was held under conditions of extreme deprivation, including spending a terrifying 12 months in solitary confinement.

I was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison, and would serve 2 years and 3 months of this sentence in Evin and Qarchak prisons, before being freed in a prisoner swap deal negotiated by the Australian government.

I met many brave political prisoners in Iran’s prison system. Inspirational women like Nasrin Sotoudeh, Niloufar Bayani and Soheila Hijab, who faced jail with their heads held high, willingly sacrificing their liberty for a cause greater than their individual suffering.

However, I also met many more ordinary Iranian women, who had been thrown in prison entirely innocent of any crime, political or otherwise, or who were victims of unpaid debts or domestic abuse or homelessness. These women lacked even a voice within their communities on the outside, let alone while languishing, sometimes for years, in overcrowded prison cells.

In Qarchak, many such women, expecting that I would be freed at some point, begged me to speak out. I promised them that I wouldn’t forget them when I returned home. I promised them that I would use my voice to draw attention to what the theocracy in Iran is doing to its own people.

I don’t know if anybody is listening. Perhaps the events of the past two years, since the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini, prove that the world powers at least, are not. But ever since I regained my freedom, I have seen it as my duty, in my own small way, to keep that promise.

So, I will be speaking about Iran and Iranians, but not for them. But this got me thinking – who then do I speak for?

I am a citizen of two Western democracies. What happened to me in prison gives me the ability to speak to the West about Iran, but it also gives me the opportunity to speak to Iranians on behalf of the West.

Please indulge me as I attempt to do these two things today.

Speaking to the West, this is what I want to say about Iran:

When Iranians look at us, yes, they see a complicated and not particularly positive history. But they also see our freedoms. The same freedoms which many of us take for granted today. Freedoms that many in Iran are willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve.

Never has their cry been clearer than during the protest movement that began in September 2022 with the tragic death of Mahsa Jina Amini. An overwhelming majority of the Iranian people, in every province, from every socio-economic class and ethnic group, turned out online and in the streets for the cause of democracy, gender equality and the freedom not to live under a repressive authoritarian regime.

For twelve months they fought bullets and batons and live-fire. They were imprisoned in their tens of thousands, they were raped and tortured and blinded and even executed. Their children were gassed.

These hundreds of thousands of brave Iranians rose up in the name of the very same values we live our lives by every day, and I am ashamed to say, we abandoned them. 

Sure, our political representatives had many nice words to say about democracy and women’s rights and opposition to the death penalty. However, when it came to actually doing something to advance these values within Iran, their words were shown to be just that: empty words.

I am ashamed of governments in countries like the UK, Canada and Australia, who took steps toward listing the Revolutionary Guards, my captors, as a terrorist organisation, before meekly walking this back at the last minute, afraid of Tehran’s response.

I’m ashamed that as soon as the protesters, bravely fighting the regime alone in the streets for months, were eventually brutally crushed, Western governments rushed right back into ‘business as usual’ mode in their dealings with Tehran.

Mahsa had not been dead one year before we returned to turning a blind eye to the enforcement of oil sanctions, unfreezing Iranian assets to the tune of billions, issuing sanctions waivers which enriched the regime by further billions, and continuing to conduct trade with Iran as though nothing had changed.

To Western governments, I say: It’s not too late to stand by the Iranian people in a meaningful, impactful way in their quest for freedom. Woman, Life, Freedom is not over, it is still boiling away, it will erupt again – and when it does we can be ready.

Now, I have a few things to say to Iranians on behalf of us here in the West.

It is true that our governments have let you down. But please don’t feel abandoned or forgotten. On a people-to-people level, we are with you. Many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, mobilised for your cause across the world when you so bravely took to the streets with your simple demand for zan, zendegi, azadi.

Inspired by your courage, we shone a spotlight on the crimes of this regime and reached audiences who have never before taken an interest in the human rights of the Iranian people.

Freedom for Iran has been mentioned in the halls and chambers of Parliament of all of the great democracies, it has had prime-time news coverage, it has been the subject of accolades including Grammys and Nobel Peace Prizes.

We are mobilising to push back against the Islamic Republic’s malign influence operations. We are continuing to demand that Sepah be listed as a terror organisation, that sanctions be enforced, and that the regime’s gender apartheid be recognised and condemned in the United Nations and other fora.

We understand that bringing freedom to Iran will take time. You are not alone in your struggle, we are with you, and we will be with you for the long haul.

Finally, I have this to say to the Islamic Republic regime:

Your days murdering, executing, raping, torturing and persecuting are numbered.

Every time you kill someone. Every time you harass a woman in the street. Every time you throw an innocent person in prison, whether that be an Iranian or a foreign hostage – there is a ripple effect.

That person’s friends, colleagues and family members turn against you. People like me go back to our countries and speak up and turn our communities against you.

You have long ago lost the support of your people. You are despised, you are loathed, you are illegitimate.

One day soon the crumbling edifice of your corrupt regime will fall to the ground like a house of cards, and Iranians will finally be free to choose for themselves who governs them, and in what manner.

Freedom is an attitude, freedom is a state of mind. And the minds of the Iranian people are already free.

Thank you.

 

16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, U.N. Opening, Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Transcript:

Hi everyone, thank you. My name is Kylie Moore-Gilbert. I have been very generously invited back to the Geneva Summit this year to address you on the subject of Iran. 

Some of you may know me as one of the many foreign victims of the Islamic regime’s hostage-taking. 

As an innocent woman, I served 2 years and 3 months of a 10-year sentence in Evin and Qarchak prisons, before being freed in a prisoner swap deal negotiated by the Australian government.

My fellow prisoners would beg me to speak out if I was freed, and I promised them that I would use my voice to draw attention to what the brutal regime in Iran is doing to its own people. 

I don’t know if anybody is listening. Perhaps the events of the past two years prove that the world powers at least, are not. 

Never has the Iranian people’s desperate cry for freedom been clearer than during the protest movement that began in September 2022 with the tragic death of Mahsa Jina Amini. 

For twelve months they fought bullets and batons and live-fire. They were imprisoned in their tens of thousands, they were raped and tortured and blinded and even executed. Their children were gassed. 

These hundreds of thousands of brave Iranians rose up in the name of the very same values we live our lives by every day, and I am ashamed to say, we abandoned them.  

Sure, our political representatives had many nice words about democracy and women’s rights and opposition to the death penalty. However, when it came to actually doing something to advance these values within Iran, their words were shown to be just that: empty words.

I am ashamed of the governments which took steps toward listing the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, before meekly walking this back at the last minute, afraid of Tehran’s response. 

I’m ashamed that as soon as the protesters were eventually brutally crushed, Western governments rushed right back into ‘business as usual’ mode in their dealings with Tehran. 

Mahsa had not been dead one year before we returned to turning a blind eye to the enforcement of oil sanctions, unfreezing Iranian assets to the tune of billions, issuing sanctions waivers which enriched the regime by further billions, and continuing to conduct trade with Iran as though nothing had changed. 

To Western governments, I say: It’s not too late to stand by the Iranian people in a meaningful, impactful way in their quest for freedom. Woman, Life, Freedom is not over, it is still boiling away, it will erupt again- and when it does we can be ready.                                         

To the Islamic Republic regime, I say:

Your days murdering, executing, raping, torturing and persecuting are numbered. 

You have long ago lost the support of your people. You are despised, you are loathed, you are illegitimate. 

One day soon the crumbling edifice of your corrupt regime will fall to the ground like a house of cards, and Iranians will finally be free to choose for themselves who governs them, and in what manner.

Freedom is an attitude, freedom is a state of mind. And the minds of the Iranian people are already free.

Thank you. 

Speakers and Participants

Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Australian-British academic freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy

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