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Hostage Diplomacy: who's in control?

2022 Michael Hintze Lecture with Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert

British-Australian academic, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, highlights the complex nature of state hostage taking, and outlines ways in which Australia’s approach can be refined to tackle this insidious and growing global problem.

The use of individual citizens of a country as tools of diplomatic leverage in disputes between states is often referred to as Hostage Diplomacy, a form of arbitrary detention that involves the imprisonment and/or conviction of innocent foreign or dual-national visitors as a means of extracting concessions from their country of citizenship.

In 2018, Kylie Moore-Gilbert was falsely charged with espionage and imprisoned in Iran for more than two years before being released in a prisoner exchange deal negotiated by the Australian government. As a victim of hostage diplomacy, Moore-Gilbert experienced first-hand the injustice of being reduced to little more than a political bargaining chip.

Hear her unique insights into the Australian government’s approach to arbitrary detention and her current involvement in lobbying to reform both Australia’s strategic response and the provision of support services to victims and their families.

After the talk, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is joined in conversation by Professor Sarah Phillips.

This Sydney Ideas event was held on Thursday 29 September 2022 in the Social Sciences Building SSB Lecture Theatre 200, in partnership with the Centre for International Security Studies.


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Unfortunately, as we have seen in my case and in those of many others, hostage diplomacy pays dividends for a regime that has very few other points of international leverage.

About the speakers

Kylie Moore Giilbert

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is a British-Australian scholar of Islam and the Middle East. Kylie speaks several Middle Eastern languages and has spent significant periods travelling and conducting academic research in the region. In 2018 she was detained during a trip to Iran, and served more than two years of a ten-year sentence before being freed in November 2020 in a prisoner exchange deal negotiated by the Australian government. She is the author of the 2022 memoir ‘The Uncaged Sky.’ 

Professor Sarah Phillips

Sarah Phillips is a Professor of Global Conflict and Development at the University of Sydney, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, and Non-Resident Fellow at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies in Yemen. Her research draws from years of in-depth fieldwork, and focuses on international intervention in the global south, non-state governance, and how knowledge is produced about conflict-affected states, with a geographic focus on the Middle East and Africa.  

Sarah is the author of three books, the latest of which, When There Was No Aid: War and Peace in Somaliland (Cornell University Press, 2020) was awarded the Australian Political Science Association’s biennial Crisp Prize for the best political science monograph (2018-2020). It was also a ‘Best Book of 2020’ at Foreign Affairs, and a ‘Book of the Year (2020)’ at Australian Book Review.