Australian academic traded for Thai bomb plot prisoners

Three men linked to a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand have been released in exchange for Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert.

Ms Moore-Gilbert was released on Thursday morning, more than two years after she was picked up at Tehran airport while leaving the country after attending an academic conference in 2018.

Saeed Moradi, Mohammad Khazaei and Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh – all linked to a botched bomb plot in Bangkok in 2012 that authorities say was intended to target Israeli diplomats – were released by Thai authorities as part of the deal to secure the academic's freedom, diplomatic sources confirmed.

The 33-year old was sent to Tehran's Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Ms Moore-Gilbert vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who described Ms Moore-Gilbert's release as a "miracle" on breakfast television on Thursday morning, said negotiations to garner her release were not straightforward".

"[We've had] a few false starts on this in the past but we have got there now," he told reporters via a virtual press conference.

"Particularly over the course of the last few days, we saw how these events were unfolding and we kept up the hope, we kept up the prayers as well."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government was not shifting its stance on Iran in light of the academic's release.

"We have consistently rejected the grounds on which the government of Iran arrested and detained Dr Moore-Gilbert and we continue to do so," she said.

She also warned Australians against any travel to Iran, warning of the risk of arbitrary arrests.

[We've had] a few false starts on this in the past but we have got there now.

"We advise do not travel to Iran and particularly at this point in time due to the COVID-19 outbreak that is common across our formal travel advice, but we also add that the security situation remains volatile and there is a high risk that you could be arbitrarily detained or arrested. We are very careful with the application of our travel advice and those warnings are there for good reason."

Ms Moore-Gilbert paid tribute to the Australian diplomats who worked to secure her release, while offering kind words to the "warm-hearted" people of Iran.

"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 statement released on Thursday morning, hours after Iran state television broadcast news of a prisoner swap resulting in her freedom.

"It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to.

"I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened."

Ms Moore-Gilbert's family said they were "ecstatic" over the news, which comes after she spent more than 800 days in custody, lauding Australia's Prime Minister, the ambassador to Iran and the Foreign Minister.

"We cannot convey the overwhelming happiness that each of us feel at this incredible news," they said.

More to come

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