Australian Academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s freedom from a notorious Iranian prison did not come with the release of prisoners in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, although he won’t confirm if terrorists overseas were freed in exchange.
Mr Morrison repeatedly refused to confirm the details of the prisoner swap, even as Iranian media reported several of their citizens – including one on terrorism charges – had been freed in Thailand.
“The Australian government doesn’t acknowledge or confirm any such arrangement regarding any release of any other persons in any other places,” the PM said at a virtual press conference on Thursday.
“Where another sovereign state has made a decision about the release of prisoners, that is a matter for them.”
Dr Moore-Gilbert, detained in Iran for more than two years, was finally freed on Thursday.
She is on her way back to Australia, following years of intense and sensitive diplomatic negotiations, since her 2018 arrest
“Thank you also to all of you who have supported me and campaigned for my freedom, it has meant the world to me to have you behind me throughout what has been a long and traumatic ordeal,” she said in a statement.
“I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.”
News: Iran releases British Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in a swap for three Iranian men held abroad.
First footage: pic.twitter.com/n98gTAAbIi
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) November 25, 2020
Iranian media reported three men were released from overseas jails in a “swap” for Dr Moore-Gilbert. The Mehr news agency reported Iran “decided to exchange her with three Iranian economic activists who had been detained for trying to circumvent sanctions”.
It’s unclear where the Iranians had been held, although the ABC is reporting at least two had been jailed in Thailand. The Guardian reported the men had been jailed over a plot to bomb Israeli diplomats in 2013.
Mr Morrison denied any prisoners were released in Australia to secure the 33-year-old’s freedom after 803 days in detention, but did not deny that detainees elsewhere had been released in exchange for Dr Moore-Gilbert.
“I don’t go into those details, confirm them one way or the other. The way we are able to be successful in these arrangements is we deal with them discreetly,” the PM told Channel Nine’s Today show on Thursday.
“But I can assure Australians we would never do anything to prejudice the safety of Australians.”
Mr Morrison said he needed to exercise discretion in speaking about Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release, for reasons that included “the safety of other Australians who could find themselves in this situation”.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the academic’s release had been “achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government”.
In a joint press conference with the PM, Senator Payne said Dr Moore-Gilbert would have to quarantine for COVID reasons upon her return to Australia. The media conference was held ‘virtually’, with the PM still in quarantine after returning from Japan.
“She is healthy and in good spirits. On her return, she will go into quarantine, but she will not be alone and she is well-supported,” Senator Payne said.
“Dr Moore-Gilbert has adjustments to make, some plans to consider, so this will be a period of privacy and one expects, decompression.”
The foreign minister also repeatedly resisted questions about exact details on how the release was secured.
Mr Morrison called the freed academic “amazing.”
“Your strength encourages an example to all Australians in what has been an enormously difficult time at home, but compared to what you have been going through, that is a whole another experience entirely,” the PM said.
The foreign affairs minister reminded Australians that government advice was to not travel to Iran.
In a Facebook post, Mr Morrison praised “our amazing team of consular and other officials, our [Department of Foreign Affairs] team, together with Minister Marise Payne, for doing such an outstanding job.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese took aim at Iran’s government, saying it was “outrageous” that Iran “used this situation, effectively, as a hostage situation”.
Shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong praised the “resilience” of Dr Moore-Gilbert and her family.