A British-Australian academic who has been freed from jail in Iran has thanked supporters for getting her through “a long and traumatic ordeal”.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert has consistently denied accusations of espionage since her arrest in Iran in September 2018.
She had been serving a 10-year sentence but was released in a swap for three jailed Iranians, Tehran said.
Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family said they were “relieved and ecstatic” that she was free.
The Melbourne University lecturer had been travelling on an Australian passport in 2018 when she was detained at Tehran airport as she tried to leave following a conference.
Concerns for her wellbeing escalated in August when news emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak, a notorious prison in the desert.
On Thursday, Dr Moore-Gilbert said Australian officials had worked “tirelessly” to secure her freedom. She thanked them and other supporters who had “meant the world to me” while in detention.
“I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people,” she said in a statement.
“It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to. I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened.”
The Cambridge-educated scholar – who was tried in secret – had endured “over 800 days of incredible hardship”, her family added.
“We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness that each of us feel at this incredible news,” they said in a statement released by the Australian government.
According to Iranian state media, she was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”. They have not yet been named.
Video of the apparent exchange was published by state broadcaster IRIB news and the Tasnim website.
The footage, which had no commentary, showed Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and being driven away in a mini-van. Three men are seen being met by officials. One is in a wheelchair.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on whether a swap had taken place, but said no-one had been released in Australia.
“The injustice of her detention and her conviction, Australia has always rejected, and I’m just so pleased that Kylie’s coming home,” he told local network Nine.
In letters smuggled out of Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year, Dr Moore-Gilbert said she had “never been a spy” and feared for her mental health. She said she had rejected an offer from Iran to become a spy.
“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy, and I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country,” she wrote.
She was later visited by Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, who reported that she was “well”.
Dr Moore-Gilbert was reported to have spent long periods in solitary confinement and undertaken hunger strikes while in detention.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the release “was achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government”.
She added Dr Moore-Gilbert would “soon be reunited with her family” but did not specify when she would be returning to Australia.
Melbourne University Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell said he was “delighted” at the news, adding: “We have waited a long time for this day.”
Iran has detained a number of foreign nationals and Iranian dual citizens in recent years, many of them on spying charges. Human rights groups have accused Tehran of using the cases as leverage to try to gain concessions from other countries.
British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on spying charges in 2016. She has always maintained her innocence.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, welcomed reports of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release.
“Nazanin and I are really happy for Kylie and her family,” he told the BBC. “They have been through so much, borne with such dignity. And it is an early Christmas present for us all, that one more of us is out and on their way home, one more family can begin to heal.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said news of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was “an enormous relief”.
“There may now be renewed grounds for hoping that UK-Iranian dual-nationals like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will also be released from their unjust jail terms in Iran in the coming days or weeks,” she said.
Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, was jailed for 10 years in July 2019 after being convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.