Iran prisoner rugby-tackled diplomat while behind bars

LONDON: An academic jailed in Iran for more than two years has revealed that she rugby-tackled the Australian ambassador to prevent him from leaving.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, 34, a Cambridge graduate with British and Australian nationality, was taken prisoner in 2018 after attending a seminar in Iran on Shia Islam.

She was accused of spying on Tehran, and put in a jail run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

She was later freed in 2020 after a deal was struck between the Iranian and Australian governments.

In a book, released this week, she reveals that she at one point rugby-tackled an Australian diplomat when he tried to leave a meeting with her.

Almost a year after she was jailed, Iranian guards insisted on filming her meeting with Ian Biggs, the Australian ambassador to Iran. But the guards ordered Biggs to leave when she refused to be filmed.

“This meeting isn’t over,” she shouted as she dived to grab Biggs around the legs. “It’s not over until I say it’s over.”

An extract published by The Sydney Morning Herald describes how Biggs was forced to sit down as Moore-Gilbert maintained her grip. 

“Ignore these f—,” she told him. “Tell me, what is the government doing to get me out?”

An Arabic and Hebrew speaker, Moore-Gilbert also revealed that she initially resisted learning Persian while in jail, as that would be an acknowledgment of her staying incarcerated for a long time.

“Not knowing what they were saying to me, not being able to communicate, that was just horrible. I didn’t want to study Farsi because that would mean acknowledging to myself that I would be there for a long time,” she said.

Ultimately, after more than six months in Evin prison, she relented, because “it became a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a goal, and something to do.”

In her book, she also talked about her Iranian guards’ strategies aimed at “humiliating” her.

Whenever Moore-Gilbert stepped out of her cell, she had to put on a blindfold. For a trip to the clinic inside the prison grounds, she would be handcuffed. She was not permitted to wear a bra under her prison uniform of a pink knee-length coat and baggy pink pants. 

“It was a deliberate strategy of humiliation,” she said. “Dehumanization, also.”

She also tells of how guards and authorities numbered her, and refused to use her name, instead always addressing her by her number: 97029.

“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 book. “I was losing myself. I was becoming 97029.”

In another section of the book, she talks of how an IRGC intelligence official fell in love with her.

“Qazi Zadeh, head of legal affairs in the IRGC’s intelligence branch, was a psychopath. A 100 percent, genuine, bonafide psychopath,” said Moore-Gilbert.

“Extremely intelligent. Always operating on multiple levels, playing multiple games, manipulating everybody, including his own colleagues.”

He would taunt her, change his tone and try to recruit her to work for the Islamic Republic.

“It was this weird relationship,” Moore-Gilbert told the Syndey Morning Herald. “He was in love with me. It was clear to everyone, not just me.”