How captors tried to ‘break’ Kylie Moore-Gilbert

 

Kylie Moore-Gilbert has revealed the "psychological torture" she endured as a prisoner of the Iranians turned her "completely crazy" - but accessing her intense inner anger became her secret survival weapon.

The Australian academic, who was held for 804 days on trumped-up spying charges, has given candid details of the harrowing ordeal in her first interview since being freed late last year.

The torment began immediately after Dr Moore-Gilbert's capture in Tehran in September 2018, as her captors tried to "break" her with four weeks of brutal solitary confinement in a tiny, freezing cell with no daylight, no respite or distractions, the lights on around the clock and constant noise.

‘You go completely insane’ ... Kylie Moore-Gilbert in her interview. Picture: Sky News Australia
‘You go completely insane’ ... Kylie Moore-Gilbert in her interview. Picture: Sky News Australia

"The first room I was put in, I would say is the extreme solitary confinement room designed to break you. It's psychological torture. You go completely insane," she says in the frank Sky News world exclusive interview.

"It is so damaging. I would say I felt physical pain from the psychological trauma I had in that room. It's a two-by-two-metre box. There is no toilet, there is no television. There is nothing whatsoever other than a phone on the wall for calling the guards. There's no window.

"There had been a window in my room and it had been boarded up with a piece of sheet metal. So I could hear some sounds from outside and sometimes I had a kind of a sliver of light coming through a crack in the sheet metal and reflecting on the wall opposite, so I could tell when the sun was out.

 

"I could tell when it was dawn and dusk because there were birds in the trees outside and they would tweet in the morning and in the evening but other than that, the light was on 24/7. There was no real way of knowing the time."

Dr Moore-Gilbert, 33, tells interviewer Melissa Doyle the conditions within the cell at Tehran's Evin Prison were disgusting, degrading and lacking in any form of comfort. Even her blankets, which were insufficient for the autumn temperature, were full of human detritus.

"I'm fairly tall and I could only just stretch out on the floor without my head and my feet touching the wall on either side. There was a carpet, kind of an old, dirty, stained carpet and that was all. I had three blankets. They were old, they were itchy. They were kind of military blankets full of other peoples hairs, full of god-knows what; bits of skin, bits of rubbish. They smelled bad. I had to use one as a pillow, one as a mattress and one to cover myself so I wouldn't be cold yet I was still cold."

Freezing cold ... an exterior view of Evin Prison.
Freezing cold ... an exterior view of Evin Prison.

It took a serious toll, with the academic - a University of Melbourne lecturer in Islamic studies - descending into what she called a "prolonged anxiety attack or panic attack".

"I spent four weeks in that room. After the two-week mark, I was flipping out completely," says Moore-Gilbert.

"I'd lost it, I'd lost the plot. I was completely crazy. Just entertaining your brain for such a long period of time. They wouldn't come every day for interrogation toward the end so I'd have days and days … where I was just alone in this room … with nothing to do. So, I was by the end of it a crazy lady."

The "interrogation" to which she refers was questioning by her captors, the intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. They seized her in 2018 on her way to Tehran Airport, as she was about to leave the country following a conference.

Before the nightmare ... Kylie Moore-Gilbert sightseeing in Tehran prior to her arrest, from Sky News world exclusive Escape From Iran.
Before the nightmare ... Kylie Moore-Gilbert sightseeing in Tehran prior to her arrest, from Sky News world exclusive Escape From Iran.

In part because her husband was a Russian-Israeli, it has been suggested, an informant in Tehran reported her as suspicious. She was subsequently tried and sentenced to ten years in jail for espionage on behalf of Israel - Iran's great foe in the Middle East - some believe in order to give Iran leverage in international negotiations.

In the interview, which airs on Tuesday night, Dr Moore-Gilbert tells Doyle she does know the identity of that informant.

Separately, Doyle tackles the issue of Dr Moore-Gilbert's intimate betrayal by her husband: Ruslan Hodorov, who, while his wife was in prison, began an affair with her colleague and PhD supervisor Dr Kylie Baxter. The University of Melbourne appointed Dr Baxter as a liaison person to support Dr Moore-Gilbert's husband and family while she was in jail.

Affair ... Dr Kylie Baxter and Ruslan Hodorov.
Affair ... Dr Kylie Baxter and Ruslan Hodorov.

Dr Moore-Gilbert only discovered the truth two days after she flew back to Australia last November, following her release in a prisoner exchange deal.

She speaks for the first time about the adultery in the interview, a Sky News source said.

"One of the biggest shocks is how Kylie discovered her husband's affair. Hearing her speak about his adultery, while she was stuck in jail on the other side of the world, is just heartbreaking. But what she says about her husband - and his mistress - is really going to surprise viewers."

Adding a poignant layer to that chapter is the fact that Iranian intelligence wanted to use Dr Moore-Gilbert to lure Hodorov into a trap - a ploy she loyally resisted.

Members of the Sky News interview team told News Corp of how impressive Dr Gilbert-Moore appears, as she begins her recovery from both jail ordeal and marriage breakdown.

"She's strong and thoughtful," Doyle said.

‘Strong and thoughtful’ ... Melissa Doyle speaks to Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Picture: Sky News Australia
‘Strong and thoughtful’ ... Melissa Doyle speaks to Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Picture: Sky News Australia

Asked by Doyle if the Iranians broke her spirit, as she was shuttled between different prisons, Dr Moore-Gilbert replies: "There were a few times in that early period that I felt broken. I felt if I have to endure another day of this, if I could, I'd just kill myself, but of course I never tried and I never took that step. I don't know whether I really wanted to or if it was just everything was just too much to bear."

However she reveals a turnaround began - firstly as her exhaustion turned into a form of protective meditative state then secondly as she began to develop and channel a furious indignation at how she was being treated.

At the beginning, she says, "I couldn't eat anything and I couldn't sleep. My emotional state was just so volatile and I was so anxious. I was crying."

But after time she got used to the 24/7 light and a constant humming static noise, explaining: "It took me awhile to adjust but once I did, I felt like I slowed my brain down … by the three- and four-week mark in that room, I was sort of existing in a half-asleep, half-awake state where I would sort of drift in and out of my memories and drift in and out of various ideas in my head and just stare at the wall for hours and pass the time in this lethargic state, almost like a form of meditation.

"After a few weeks, I started to get angry, angry about what I was being subjected to, angry about the fact that I'd done nothing wrong and here I was being psychologically tortured and being accused of all sorts of ridiculous crimes and all sorts of ridiculous things in these interrogations and that anger woke up my emotional side again and gave me strength.

"I drew strength from my anger and indignation at what had happened to me and became stubborn and started to fight back and started to break the rules because I felt I don't deserve this. Who are these people to do this to me?"

Escape From Iran: Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Word Exclusive Interview, Tuesday 9 March 7pm AEDT on Sky News on Foxtel

Words of friendship ... after she was freed, Kylie Moore-Gilbert said she had no ill-will to the ordinary people of Iran. Picture from Sky News world exclusive Escape From Iran.
Words of friendship ... after she was freed, Kylie Moore-Gilbert said she had no ill-will to the ordinary people of Iran. Picture from Sky News world exclusive Escape From Iran.

Originally published as How captors tried to 'break' Kylie Moore-Gilbert