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Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Lecturer released by Iran ‘in prisoner swap’

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A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been freed in exchange for three jailed Iranians, Iranian media say.

The Australian government confirmed Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release but did not give details.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Middle East politics at Melbourne University, had been detained in Iran since September 2018.

She was tried in secret and strongly denied all the charges against her.

According to Iranian state media, she was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”. They have not yet been named.

News of the exchange first came on Wednesday in a statement on the website of the Young Journalist Club, a news website affiliated to state television in Iran.

“An Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens who were detained abroad on baseless charges were exchanged for a dual national spy named Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who worked for the Zionist regime,” it said.

Video purporting to show the exchange was published by state broadcaster IRIB news and the Tasnim website.

The footage, which had no commentary, showed Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and being driven away in a mini-van. Three men are seen being met by officials. One is in a wheelchair.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased and relieved” at the release of Dr Moore-Gilbert which she said “was achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government”. She made no reference to any exchange of prisoners.

“The Australian government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert. We continue to do so,” she said in a statement.

Senator Payne said Dr Moore-Gilbert would “soon be reunited with her family” but did not specify when she would be returning to Australia.

“No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention. I also commend the endurance, trust and resilience of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, friends and university colleagues throughout this period,” the minister added.

Dr Moore-Gilbert had been travelling on an Australian passport when she was detained at Tehran airport in 2018 as she tried to leave following a conference.

In letters smuggled out of Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year, the Cambridge-educated academic said she had “never been a spy” and feared for her mental health. She said she had rejected an offer from Iran to become a spy.

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy, and I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country,” she wrote.

Concerns for her wellbeing escalated in August when news emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak, a notorious prison in the desert.

She was visited shortly afterwards by Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, who reported that she was “well”.

Before being moved to Qarchak, Dr Moore-Gilbert had spent almost two years sleeping on the floor of a cell at Evin prison, according to a friend.

She had been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes, and was said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners.

Iran has detained a number of foreign nationals and Iranian dual citizens in recent years, many of them on spying charges. Human rights groups have accused Tehran of using the cases as leverage to try to gain concessions from other countries.

British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on spying charges in 2016. She has always maintained her innocence.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, welcomed reports of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release.

“Nazanin and I are really happy for Kylie and her family,” he told the BBC. “They have been through so much, borne with such dignity. And it is an early Christmas present for us all, that one more of us is out and on their way home, one more family can begin to heal.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said news of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was “an enormous relief”.

“There may now be renewed grounds for hoping that UK-Iranian dual-nationals like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will also be released from their unjust jail terms in Iran in the coming days or weeks,” she said.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, was jailed for 10 years in July 2019 after being convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55077744

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Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine

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Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.

The inoculations were administered by a household doctor at Windsor Castle, a royal source said.
To prevent inaccuracies and further speculation, Her Majesty, who 94, decided that she would let it be known that she has had the vaccination, the source added. Her husband is 99 years old.
The couple’s son, Prince Charles, tested positive for coronavirus and went into isolation in March. The 72-year-old later said he was lucky to only experience mild symptoms, adding he’d “got away with it quite lightly.”
Meanwhile, their grandson Prince William, second-in-line to the British throne, also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year, UK media reported, though exactly when he contracted the virus is unclear.
The UK has recorded more than 3 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 80,000 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.
The UK reported 1,325 coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday — its highest ever daily increase in deaths.
Health officials face a deadly start to 2021 as a new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, sweeps the nation.
In the capital, London’s mayor declared a “major incident” on Friday, warning that hospitals in the city were close to being overrun.
“The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement.
“The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April.
“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point,” Khan added. “If we do not take immediate action now, our [National Health Service] could be overwhelmed and more people will die.”

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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger

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Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.

The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.

“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”

It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.

Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.

The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.

Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.

On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/03/dozens-killed-in-suspected-jihadist-attack-in-niger

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Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections

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People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.

The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.

He’s focussing on security and education.

Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.

“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.

Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.

Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/27/niger-votes-in-presidential-and-legislative-elections

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