British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert arrived back in Australia and will soon reunite with her family after more than two years in an Iranian prison.
Dr Moore-Gilbert was met by public health officials and members of the Australian defence force after leaving her plane at Canberra Airport, less than 24 hours after being released from prison in Iran.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne has said Moore-Gilbert, 33, will have to undergo quarantine due to Covid-19 concerns.
The academic from Melbourne University was released after 804 days behind bars on spying charges.
She was freed in exchange for the release of three Iranians who were held in Thailand.
Fairfax Media reported that the Australian government played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in bringing Thailand to the table and engineering the prisoner swap.
Fairfax said the discovery of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s Israeli boyfriend led to Iranian authorities stopping her at Tehran’s airport as she was about to leave the country in 2018 after attending an academic conference.
Authorities sentenced her to 10 years in prison for espionage.
The Australian government and Dr Moore-Gilbert rejected the allegations as baseless.
Fairfax Media cited unidentified Australian government sources as saying the at-times delicate negotiations took more than six months.
In Bangkok, Thai officials said they transferred three Iranians involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot back to Tehran.
While they declined to call it a swap and Iran referred to the men as “economic activists,” the arrangement freed Dr Moore-Gilbert and saw the three men, who were linked to a wider bomb plot targeting Israeli diplomats, return home to a hero’s welcome.
They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, their faces largely obscured by black baseball caps and surgical masks.
In Australia, prime minister Scott Morrison said he was “thrilled and relieved” that Dr Moore-Gilbert had been released but added that it would take time for her to process her “horrible” ordeal.
“The tone of her voice was very uplifting, particularly given what she has been through,” Mr Morrison told Australia’s Network Nine.
Despite her ordeal, Dr Moore-Gilbert said in a statement that she had “nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.”
Asked about the swap, Mr Morrison said he “wouldn’t go into those details, confirm them one way or the other”.
However, he said he could assure Australians there had been nothing done to prejudice their safety and no prisoners were released in Australia.