By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN (AA) - Iran has officially confirmed that a British-Australian woman, who was serving a 10-year sentence in a Tehran jail, has been freed in exchange for three Iranian nationals held in Thailand.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi in a statement on Friday termed it a “unique” swap deal involving three countries and with negotiations between the trio spanning over one year.
He did not identify the three Iranians released in exchange for Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was freed from the high-security Evin prison on Wednesday after serving two years of her jail term.
While Iranian officials say the three Iranians, including one businessman, had been languishing in a Thai jail for the last eight years over attempts to circumvent sanctions on Iran, western media has linked them to a 2012 bomb plot in Bangkok.
Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at Melbourne University, had been arrested in Iran in 2018 on “espionage charges”. She was accused of traveling to different parts of Iran in the guise of an academic to “gather intelligence” for the Israeli spy agency.
The Cambridge-educated academic, however, vehemently denied the charges, saying she had “never been a spy” and had “no interest to work for a spying agency in any country”.
In a statement released hours after she was flown back to Australia, she thanked the Australian officials for working “tirelessly” for her freedom and also expressed “respect, love and admiration” for the “great nation of Iran” and “warm-hearted, generous and brave people” of the country.
“It is with bittersweet feeling that I leave your country, despite the injustices I have been subjected to,” Moore-Gilbert said.
Providing details about the swap deal, Araqchi termed it the “result of intensive diplomatic work with Thailand and Australia” which lasted more than a year.
The exchange took place at the Tehran airport.
He said the three Iranians were first handed over to the Iranian authorities before the Australian woman boarded the special flight that earlier ferried the Iranians from Australia to Tehran.
“Prisoner exchange is a common and accepted practice in the international affairs and does not in any way violate the independence of judiciary,” Araqchi said.
He said the exchange deal had taken place in cooperation with the top security body of the country.
He further said that at least five prisoner exchanges have happened over the past one year, twice with the US and Australia and once with France, in which eight Iranians were brought home.