A British-Australian academic has been moved ‘as punishment’ to a notorious Iranian prison known for using bleach baths to deal with headlice infestations.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated lecturer, was moved from Tehran’s Evin prison to Qarchak prison earlier this week, according to the Centre for Supporters of Human Rights.
Reza Khandan, the husband of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was imprisoned in Evin prison after speaking out on human rights issues, posted online that authorities had moved Dr Moore-Gilbert for ‘punishment reasons’.
Mr Khandan said she was able to send a message to him saying: ‘The conditions are very bad I cannot eat anything, I am very disappointed, I am so very depressed’.
Qarchak is around 33 miles south of Evin and houses prisoners convicted of murder as well as drugs offences, Mr Khandan wrote in a Facebook post.
The lecturer from the University of Melbourne was arrested in September 2018 while visiting an educational conference in the country and later convicted of espionage.
She was reported as ‘suspicious’ to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by fellow conference delegates and someone she was interviewing and arrested at Tehran airport as she prepared to fly out of the country, the Guardian said.
She has previously published work on the 2011 Arab uprisings and on authoritarian governments.
She spent two years in Evin prison before the move to a prison that has been described as one of the ‘worst female jails in the world’.
Letters smuggled out of prison and published in January revealed the lecturers fears for her mental health.
She said: ‘I’m taking psychiatric medications, but these 10 months that I have spent here have gravely damaged my mental health.
‘I am still denied phone calls and visitations, and I am afraid that my mental and emotional state may further deteriorate if I remain in this extremely restrictive detention ward.’
She also appeared to suggest she had been offered the chance 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.
Coronavirus is understood to be spreading within the prison and sources say social distancing is impossible.
Dr Moore-Gilbert has been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes, and is said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners by passing notes and writing to them on prison walls.
Dr Moore-Gilbert was at Tehran airport waiting to fly home to Melbourne when she was detained by Iranian authorities.
The dual UK-Australian national is understood to have been sentenced to ten years for spying.
She has claimed Iran tried to recruit her as a spy and she was shown two sentences by authorities, one with 13 months’ imprisonment and the other a decade-long term.
Both Evin Prison and Qarchak prison are controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization.
‘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, according to the BBC.
He added: ‘They’re not happy with her resilience and her refusal to co-operate.’
Qarchak prison was in December 2019 labelled by the U.S. Department of State as being responsible for ‘gross violations of internationally recognised human rights’.
‘It is known for unbearable conditions, including regular assaults and inappropriate behavior of prison guards towards women, chronic lack of water, unsanitary living spaces,’ a statement from the Department of State reads.
The prison reportedly has about 2,000 inmates, many political prisoners, but only 600 beds and head lice are controlled by shaving the hair of the woman followed by bleach baths.
Last month Dr Moore-Gilbert was reportedly beaten by guards and heavily drugged after encouraging other prisoners to sing and hum in their cells.
There had been reports she had attempted suicide but her family denied these.
‘She has strongly denied reports that she has attempted suicide or that she is being tortured,’ they said.
‘She seems to be in good health considering her situation. We love her and miss her. We ask that you continue to respect both Kylie’s and our privacy while we concentrate on getting her home.’
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade previously said Dr Moore-Gilbert was still a top priority.
‘Dr Moore-Gilbert’s case is one of our highest priorities, including for our embassy officials in Tehran,’ the statement states.
‘We do not accept the charges upon which Dr Moore-Gilbert was convicted and continue all efforts to have her returned to Australia as soon as possible.’
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has repeatedly raised the case with her Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, a spokeswoman said.
It comes after letters smuggled out of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s cell in Evin prison, and seen by The Times and The Guardian, showed she begged to leave the restrictive unit where she had served periods in solitary confinement.
Mr Khandan has been vocal about a number of political prisoners after his wife was jailed for 38 years in 2019 for political reasons.
‘[Ms Moore-Gilbert’s situation] is absolutely unbearable … we don’t know what has happened to her in these past two years,’ he has previously said.