Iran’s New Hostage-Taking Policy

Updated: May 13, 2020

Political hostage-takings are nothing new in Iran. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has repeatedly taken foreign nationals and dual citizens hostage for political gains. However, the detention of several dual citizens and western academics epitomizes a new trend.


Dr Moore-Gilbert, who also has Australian nationality, is reportedly serving a ten year sentence in Evin Prison Credit: University of Melbourne.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian professor of Islamic studies, was invited to attend an academic conference in Tehran and decided to remain as a tourist after the conference. However, she was then arrested and is being held in Evin prison. While the charges against her have not been disclosed, 10-year terms are routinely given in Iran for spying charges, and Moore-Gilbert has recently been conducting research into Shia opposition in the Persian Gulf countries.



Also being held in Evin is the historian XiYue Wang, a 37-year-old United States citizen of

Xiyue Wang, in an undated photograph from Princeton University VIA PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

Chinese descent. Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison while researching Iran's Qajar dynasty for his Princeton University PhD and has been detained since August 2016 on the accusation of “archiving thousands of Iranian documents and having connections to American intelligence agencies.” Over the past two years, his wife, Qu Hua, has stated that her husband has attempted suicide during his time in prison.


Wang and Moore-Gilbert are not the only western academics incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison.


On July 5, the French-Iranian anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah was also arrested as she conducted research into Iranian society. Adelkhah, 60, is a director of research at Sciences Po’s Centre for International Studies (CERI). She is a well-known anthropologist and researcher on Iran and Shiite Islam. Adelkhah, who is believed to have been arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on suspicion of spying, has traveled frequently between the two countries and even spent around half of the past 18 months in Iran where her family lives, friend and fellow academic Jean-Francois Bayart told AFP.