An academic who was imprisoned in Iran welcomes Brittney Griner to a ‘bizarre club.’
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Islamic studies scholar who was detained in Iran for more than two years, is still figuring out how to move on with her life two years after returning home to Australia. Her experience offers a glimpse of what Brittney Griner and others who have been through similar ordeals could encounter in their transition to post-detention life.
Ms. Griner, who returned to the United States on Friday after being detained in Russia for 10 months, is now part of the “bizarre club” of people all over the world who have gone home from detention abroad, many of whom support one another, Dr. Moore-Gilbert said on Saturday.
After going home, Dr. Moore-Gilbert was unable to simply pick up where she left off. She quit her job at the University of Melbourne and a few months after her release began writing about her experience in prison, finding it healing, she said. She spent most of this year traveling and going to events to promote the resulting book, “The Uncaged Sky.”
With that winding down, “I’m having to reassess my life and try and figure out what I’m doing with myself,” she said.
Dr. Moore-Gilbert was arrested at the Tehran airport in 2018 as she tried to leave Iran after attending a seminar on Shia Islam. After being tried in secret, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges and held for most of her time in detention in Evin Prison. She was released in November 2020 in exchange for three Iranian men who were imprisoned in Thailand.
She has maintained her innocence. Iran has a record of detaining foreign and dual citizens on false espionage charges, swapping them for Iranians jailed abroad.
For Dr. Moore-Gilbert, coping with the ordeal has changed over time and become more difficult than in the first months after her release. She described going through the early days in a state of shock and paralysis at suddenly having endless options, like what shampoo to buy and which friends to hang out with, after having everything decided for her in prison.
Only after the shock wore off, which took months, did her detention become real to her. By that point, the flurry of people around her asking if she needed support had disappeared.
People shied away from bringing up her imprisonment or mentioning Iran, she said: “That was frustrating because I wanted to talk about it. I didn’t want to just dig a hole and bury it.”
Her time in prison wasn’t the unrelenting suffering that people often assume it was; it included moments of hilarity and fun with her cellmates. She learned things about her character and how she reacts to difficult situations.
To move forward and keep her imprisonment from defining her life, she has gotten involved in advocacy for “other victims of arbitrary detention and hostage diplomacy,” she said.