A British-Australian academic detained in Iran for more than a year on suspected spying charges has gone on hunger strike.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said Kylie Moore-Gilbert and another woman, French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, began their protest before Christmas Eve “in the name of academic freedom”.

The group, quoting an open letter from the pair, said they had been held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran on trumped up charges and subjected to alleged psychological torture and human rights violations.

They are being held in Ward 2-A, said to be run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and where British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained during her three-and-a-half years in custody.

Evin jail in the north western suburbs of Tehran
Image: Evin jail in the northwestern suburbs of Tehran

Ms Moore-Gilbert, a graduate of Cambridge, is a lecturer on the Middle East at the University of Melbourne.

The charges against her have never been revealed but she recently lost an appeal against a 10-year sentence – a common prison term for espionage.

Much of her time inside, since October 2018, has been spent in solitary confinement.

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Ms Adelkhah, a prominent anthropologist, was held on spying charges earlier this year while a colleague, Roland Marchal, was arrested as he tried to visit her in prison.

The CHRI published a letter earlier this week, written in June by Ms Moore-Gilbert, to the Australian prime minister which pleaded for help to secure her release.

She is said to have told Scott Morrison: “I have been thrown into the high security unit of the Revolutionary Guards’ private prison within Evin and have been subjected to grievous violations of my legal and human rights, including psychological torture and spending prolonged periods of time in solitary confinement.

“Alone in a country whose language, culture and customs I do not understand, without friends, family or emotional support, I face being tried by a biased and corrupt Revolutionary Court for the ludicrous and wholly unsubstantiated charge of espionage.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Image: The women are being held in the same prison ward as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

“An innocent woman facing a lengthy prison sentence for a crime for which there is not even a shred of real evidence.

“The Revolutionary Guard have imprisoned me in these terrible conditions for over 9 months in order to extort me both personally and my government.

“They have also attempted to use me as a hostage in a diabolical plot to lure my husband, an Australian permanent resident (and soon to be now citizen) into joining me in an Iranian prison.

“There is no hope for a fair trial. Indeed a guilty verdict has been predetermined in a legal system wholly controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. I came to Iran as an academic researcher and consider myself a political prisoner.”