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Thinking of Kylie Moore-Gilbert

September 15, 2020 IN WIP
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Today marks the second year of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s incarceration in Iran, firstly in Evin Prison and more recently in Qarchak Prison, notorious for its human rights abuses. PEN Melbourne acknowledges the unimaginable anguish of Kylie’s family and the concern of  colleagues and friends – see below. We lend our support to the cause of bringing her home at the earliest opportunity.

You can help by writing to the Minister for Foreign Affairs urging her to act, and by writing directly to Kylie via the Australian Ambassador in Teheran.

Minister for Foreign Affairs
Senator the Hon Marise Payne
PO Box 1420
Parramatta NSW 2150.

Send a message to Kylie
c/ – Australian Embassy
No. 11, Yekta Street, Bahar Street, Shahid Fallahi Street,
Valie Asr Avenue
Tehran 1973633651
Republic of Iran

Statement from Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family

On this grim anniversary, Kylie’s family has made the following moving statement.

This Sunday, 13 September, marks two years of unimaginable pain for our family. We love Kylie very much and we remain strong and far from losing hope. For those who also know and love Kylie, they will recognise her fortitude and strength. We know this strength remains with her throughout this ordeal.

We thank the Federal Government for all its continued and persistent efforts to bring Kylie home, and we thank the Australian public for their continued support and concern. 
We all want the same thing, which is Kylie’s safe return soon. We are very grateful for the privacy that has been shown to our family and hope that it continues. 
Maria Tumarkin (a writer, cultural historian, and Senior Lecturer in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne) has written a letter to Kylie, offering hope and to let her know she is not alone.  We will send this letter to Kylie via the Australian Ambassador in Tehran. 
A letter to Kylie from Maria Tumarkin.

11 September 2020

Dear Kylie, my warmest hello to you.

I am a stranger to you but you are no stranger to me. I read about you, think about you, hope furiously that those people in our country quietly entrusted with your fate won’t, can’t, sleep at night until you’re home. Which is to say, I remember you, as do so many people in Australia. If we ever get to speak once you’re home – and I believe with all my might that you’ll be home soon – I hope to ask what sustained you through this time. Did the feeling of being remembered help? Did you, do you, have this feeling of being remembered? So many people in Australia, the UK and elsewhere in the world refuse to put you out of their mind. They follow whatever bits of information about your circumstances make their way into the media, they do everything they can to hold accountable – through scrutiny and advocacy – those whose job it is to ensure your safe return.

When I think about our shared place of work – The University of Melbourne, where I teach creative writing – I know it’s a broken place until your safety is certain. Our VC or whoever issues yet another wooden statement of concern, VCs do what VCs do, but underneath there are real people who worry ceaselessly about your wellbeing. An honourable institution is, at its best, not a self-legitimating bureaucracy but a living contract to not forget its people and its values, no matter what. And a nation worthy of its name is also a living contract of this very kind (which is why whatever can be said about nation-states, I still believe in them).

I am a first-generation Australian. I came to this country as a teenager. I love Australia, which means I also feel shame and rage when this country fails to do what is right and necessary. I recognise that you’re a person of immense moral courage. I think no one should be asked to be courageous for so long. Two years. In ancient Greece courage was the first virtue – not the most important, but the most fundamental – because it allowed other virtues to survive. We don’t remind ourselves enough that the word ‘courage’ comes from Latin cor, meaning heart. Please take care of your heart, dear Kylie.

Nobody of course can know what it’s like to be in your skin, and here comes Covid on top of everything else. But we close our eyes and try to imagine the contours of your daily life. For the most part though our eyes are wide open and looking at those who must find a way to bring you home.

Thank you for reading this letter from a stranger, Kylie. I am a stranger to you, but please know that you’re no stranger to me.


In August 2018, University of Melbourne, Islamic Studies expert, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, travelled to Iran to attend an academic conference on Iranian culture and history. It is thought that a fellow conference delegate reported her to the Iranian authorities. Kylie was arrested at Tehran airport  by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as she attempted to return home. She was convicted of espionage at a secret trial, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. It is believed that Kylie’s mental and physical health have significantly deteriorated. Qarchak Prison has been called the worst women’s prison in the world with poor sanitary conditions. It is reported that Covid-19 is sweeping through the prison.

The Australian Government, Kylie’s academic colleagues and her friends insist that Kylie is innocent of the conviction of espionage. 

PEN International is alarmed about the large number of writers and activists in Iran who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

PEN Melbourne continues to campaign for the release of Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi imprisoned in Iran for standing against the oppressive regime. Poet, lawyer, and women’s rights activist Sedigheh Vasmaghi has recently been sentenced to six years in prison by the Revolutionary Court in Iran for ‘propaganda against the regime’. PEN demands that the verdict be revoked immediately.


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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International