- Associated Press - Thursday, January 16, 2020

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australia’s foreign minister said on Friday she had raised with her Iranian counterpart the fate of an imprisoned Australian-British academic, who has gone on hunger strikes and urged the Australian government to do more to free her.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne declined to detail her conversation with Mohammad Javad Zarif about convicted academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert on Thursday on the sidelines of a global leadership conference in India.

“We have been very, very focused on Dr. Moore-Gilbert and the circumstances of her imprisonment, ” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in New Delhi.

Australian officials had recently been allowed consular visits to the Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies and was working to support her, Payne said.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about the details of that conversation, but to assure Australians and to assure Dr. Moore-Gilbert’s family that I have raised that matter again,” she added.

Moore-Gilbert has been held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran since September 2018. She was arrested at Tehran airport while trying to leave the country after attending an academic conference.

She was convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A recent appeal was rejected.

T he Center for Human Rights in Iran on Friday released to The Associated Press letters Moore-Gilbert wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison which she said she had been imprisoned “to extort’ her and the Australian government.

She wrote in June : “I beg you to act faster to bring this terrible trauma that myself and my family must live through day after day to a resolution.”

She wrote again in December: “Six months have passed … during this time I have remained in the same prison without any improvement in my intolerable conditions.”

“Over the past nine months I have been completely banned from any contact with my family, with the exception of a three-minute phone call (with my father), which was only granted after I took desperate measures which put my own life at risk,” she wrote.

“I have undertaken five hunger strikes as my only means to raise my voice, but to no avail. As predicted, I have now received a conviction of 10 years in prison, and my appeal … has failed,” she wrote.

“I beg of you, Prime Minister Morrison, to take immediate action, as my physical and mental health continues to deteriorate with every additional day that I remain imprisoned in these conditions,” she added.

Moore-Gilbert said she had been “subjected to grievous violations of my legal and human rights, including psychological torture and spending prolonged periods of time in solitary confinement.”

“I am writing to you to beseech your government to do more, to make difficult diplomatic decisions if necessary,” she said.

Payne said last week that Moore-Gilbert’s plight was a factor in Australia’s consideration of whether it would follow the United States in ratcheting up sanctions against Iran in retaliation for a missile strike on two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops.

“The government has been working extremely hard in relation to the ongoing detention of Kylie Moore-Gilbert,” Payne said. “We don’t accept the charges on which she has been held and are concerned for her protection and the conditions under which she is held.”

“It is always a focus for us in terms of important consular matters such as this, but we make every decision that we make in Australia’s national interests,” Payne added.

Australia has yet to announce new sanctions.

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