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Australian academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has revealed she was beaten up by a prison guard who turned out to be the wife of a senior officer who tried to seek a romantic relationship with her while she was locked in an Iranian jail for 804 days.
But three weeks later she was arrested at Tehran Airport accused of spy charges as she attempted to fly home.
She was sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, where she spent more than two years behind bars until she was finally freed in November 2020.
Dr Moore-Gilbert opened up for the first time about the prison boss she knew as Qazi Zadeh, when she appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.
She claimed he took a ‘perverse’ romantic interest in her and used his powers to extend her sentence after she became embroiled in his bizarre love triangle.
Two months after he started flirting with her, Dr Moore-Gilbert was horrified to discover that he was married to a guard at the prison.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert (pictured) has revealed for the first time how a senior prison officer developed a romantic interest in her and how he bought her pizza, clothes and a birthday cake during her time in Tehran’s Evin prison
Aussie academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert discovered her Russian-Israeli husband Ruslan Hodorov (both pictured) was having an affair with Dr Kylie Baxter when she was released from prison
‘She did everything she could to make my life impossible to live,’ she told 60 Minutes.
‘She bullied me, she really made it hard. She had beaten up. She was the prison guard who beat me up.’
Dr Moore-Gilbert put two and two together after a conversation with the prison guard’s wife in the exercise yard.
‘I sat up in bed one night with a blanket over my head and I just had this moment of realisation that ‘Oh she’s his wife. F*** what do I do?,’ she said.
‘It was too bonkers.’
After almost two years behind bars, Dr Moore-Gilbert was told a diplomatic deal for her to be released was imminent.
She decided to make a bold move that would backfire on her.
‘I understood that in a few days time that perhaps I was leaving,’ she recalled.
‘I felt I had to warn her. I wanted her to know that it wasn’t coming from me. I wanted her to know I had no power or control over this.’
That’s when the prison boss cancelled the diplomatic deal and ordered Dr Moore-Gilbert to be relocated to Qarchak prison, a notorious women’s facility in Iran, where she was detained for a further six to seven months.
‘When I eventually made it clear to him I wasn’t interested, I was sent to Qarchak prison,’ she said.
‘He thought I would suffer there and I would be in danger there being around criminals and gangs and murderer.
‘I couldn’t believe he had the power to do that.’
The University of Melbourne lecturer spent two years in Evin Prison (pictured), one of Iran’s most notorious prisons
Dr Moore-Gilbert shared candid details about the bizarre bond she had with the Revolutionary Guard who controlled every aspect of her life in prison.
She claimed there was a lot of animosity between them in the first 12 months.
‘He initially wanted to present himself as the ‘good cop’ but that quickly degenerated into him being the absolute bad cop – punishing me, putting informers and spies in my room, banning me from family phone calls and consulate visits,’ she recalled.
He then developed a romantic interest in her which Dr Moore-Gilbert claimed was very perverse, controlling and emotionally abusive.
‘He had complete and utter control over every facet of my life,’ she said.
‘He was giving me information. I saw it as a beneficial relationship to nurture and foster because I was getting something out of it.
‘I got a lot of stuff from him. He would buy me pizza, he arranged a birthday party for me, he bought clothes for me.
‘He helped me bear the conditions in that place.
‘I know it’s strange. He bought me an enormous two tier chocolate cake with my name in icing.
‘It was very dangerous. He was a very dangerous man.’
Kylie Moore-Gilbert (pictured) claims the senior prison officer she befriended later extended her imprisonment after she told him she was romantically interested in him
While she was imprisoned, her Russian-Israeli husband Ruslan Hodorov started having an affair with Dr Kylie Baxter, her university colleague and PhD supervisor – which she would only discover upon arriving home.
A year since announcing her separation on social media, she still has no idea of how or why the affair developed while she was imprisoned.
‘He went through a really hard time, though not as hard as me,’ Dr Moore-Gilbert said.
‘I don’t know his side of the story.’
When quizzed by reported Sarah Abo on whether she wanted to know, she replied: ‘Not particularly.’
‘Because I’m over it. I’m better off this way.’
Dr Moore-Gilbert was given a 10-year sentence but always denied the charges, that reportedly stemmed from the Iranian authorities’ belief that she was a spy for Israel because of her relationship with her husband – an Israeli citizen.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert (pictured) claimed she was bullied and beaten up during her tow years in an Iranian prison
Dr Moore-Gilbert’s Russian-Israeli husband Ruslan Hodorov (right) started having an affair with Dr Kylie Baxter (left) while his wife was in Evin Prison
When she was arrested, Dr Moore-Gilbert – who is also the cousin of Julian Assange – had been attending a conference in Iran when she was flagged as ‘suspicious’ by a fellow academic and by a subject she had interviewed for research.
She was subsequently tried and sentenced, and held in Evin prison in solitary confinement. Iranian authorities reportedly tried to recruit her as a spy in exchange for her release, which she declined.
Nick Warner, the head of Australia’s intelligence service, successfully negotiated a prison swap for Dr Moore-Gilbert’s freedom, as she revealed what got her through those 804 days of torture.
‘Freedom is so precious, only when it’s taken away from you do you really understand its value and what it means,’ she said.
‘There were a lot of factors that helped me survive.’
‘One of them is simply you have no choice, you have to survive. What’s the alternative?’
‘Your own brain becomes your worst enemy. You’re there to be broken.
‘They didn’t break me, and I’m proud of myself for that.’
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert (pictured) spent more than two years locked up in an Iranian prison after being accused of espionage
During her horror 804-day ordeal in the Middle Eastern hellhole, the academic was subjected to filthy toilets, mistreatment from guards, and horrible food.
But there were some moments of light that helped her push through the her terrifying ordeal – including the kindness of a diplomat who visited her in prison.
While she managed to keep a strong front most of the time, Dr Moore-Gilbert reached a tipping point during a meeting with Iranian officials in April 2019.
Taken from her cell to the meeting room, Dr Moore-Gilbert arrived to find Australia’s ambassador to Iran Ian Biggs and a camera mounted on a tripod.
After previously being pressured into making statements on camera, she refused to have her conversation with Mr Biggs recorded.
At that point, her jailers declared the meeting was over and asked Mr Biggs to leave, prompting Dr Moore-Gilbert to angrily shout it was not over until she said so.
She dove to the floor and threw her arms around Mr Biggs legs, begging him to continue to tell her what he came there to say, and fill her in on the ways the Australian government was working to get her out of the Middle East.
Dr Moore-Gilbert was given a 10 year prison sentence, but was eventually freed after spending 804 days in a high-security Tehran prison
Telling him to ignore Iranian guards insistence to leave, Dr Moore-Gilbert noticed Mr Biggs had muscular legs as she clasped her arms around his calves.
‘He must have been a runner or something. [I told him] nice legs!’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Good Weekend.
Dr Moore-Gilbert said she had begun to suspect her husband, who she had bought a home with in Dandenong shortly before leaving for Iran, was starting to grow less committed to their relationship.
She said he seemed highly emotional during their initial conversations in jail, but grew distant and distracted as time went on.
Dr Moore-Gilbert conceded her husband had also been traumatised by the experience, but does not believe that is an excuse for his actions.
Although she now feels better off without him, she does not want him to be seen as a villain, and strongly believes that sometimes good people do bad things.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert is pictured returning to Australia in November 2020 after spending more than 800 days in one of Iran’s most notorious jails
Her first inkling that she was in trouble was the night before she was due to leave Iran when a group of men ‘like police’ came to her Tehran hotel while she was out.
After being told about the visit by the hotel receptionist, Dr Moore-Gilbert searched for the phone number of the Australian embassy without any success and then dismissed any concerns as had nothing to hide.
Her harrowing nightmare began the next day at the airport, where she was pulled out of the passport-control queue and taken to a room filled with men wearing black.
She spent the next week being interrogated at a hotel before she was blindfolded and transported to Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Dr Moore-Gilbert would spend two years confined to a windowless cell which measured two metres by two metres.
Assigned as prisoner 97029, she would often spend her days singing hits from Destiny’s Child and Amy Winehouse at the top of her lungs but her time in solitary confinement gradually left her disheartened.
She had to wear a blindfold every time she left her cell and was handcuffed during trips to the clinic inside the prison grounds.
She didn’t attempt suicide and admits she did contemplate ending her life.
‘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 new book The Uncaged Sky.
‘I was losing myself. I was becoming 97029.’
Dr Moore-Gilbert describes prison food as edible and will never forget the ‘filthy, disgusting, squat toilet’ she says hadn’t been cleaned if in months, if not ever.
‘They said, ‘We can’t give you cleaning chemicals because you’ll drink them and kill yourself,’ she recalled.
‘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 during her imprisonment which she says was an effective way of getting the prison bosses’ attention.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert (pictured) was subjected to poor treatment, horrible food, and filthy toilets during her horror 804 day stint in Tehran’s Evin Jail
Her fate was in the hands of the prison guard she knew as Qazi Zadeh, whom she says developed a crush on her and admitted she felt a real connection with him.
‘He had complete and utter power over me,’ she recalled as she looked back on their ‘weird relationship’.
‘He was in love with me. It was clear to everyone, not just me.’
Some days he would taunt Moore-Gilbert by claiming Australian embassy staff knew she was guilty, or assuring her that she would be buried in Iran.
Other days he would claim he was her side 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.
‘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, she said. ‘I was in solitary. I had nobody else to talk to.’
She will never forget her first hours of freedom in November 2020, where her first stop was to the home of the current Australian ambassador, Lyndall Sachs, where she enjoyed a hearty lunch which included her first glass of wine since 2018 and two cups of coffee.
More a year after her return to Australia, Dr Moore-Gilbert credits personal resilience with preventing her from becoming extremely damaged for life.
She has no bitterness towards Iran which she described as beautiful and regards ordinary Iranians as wonderful, warm and hospitable.
Her harrowing ordeal hasn’t diminished her interest in the Middle East and says she’s if anything, more interested in the region where she was held captive.
Her book The Uncaged Sky: My 804 days in an Iranian prison is out on Wednesday.
The University of Melbourne lecturer travelled to Iran in August 2018 to attend a seminar on Shia Islam. She was arrested at Tehran Airport a month later