Iranian ‘health defender’ released on bail after outcry

Lawyer Mostafa Nili was one of three men detained since August after preparing to sue Iran’s leadership over its handling of country's pandemic response

A Covid-19 patient breathes with an oxygen mask in Amir Al Momenin Hospital in the city of Qom. The Iranian leadership has been criticised for its handling of the pandemic. AP

A prominent lawyer arrested while planning to sue the Iranian regime over its chaotic response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been freed on bail, supporters said.

Mostafa Nili and two other campaigners had been detained since August after they prepared to file a case against Iran’s supreme leader, president, health minister and other officials for causing the deaths of thousands of Iranians.

The trio complained that they had been held in solitary confinement and were pressured to abort their planned legal action against the state. They refused and were due to stand trial behind closed doors from October.

A judge released Mr Nili on bail because he spent more than 30 days awaiting trial, campaigners with knowledge of the case said.

Pictures on social media showed Mr Nili clutching flowers while surrounded by well-wishers after he left the jail, though supporters said his release is only temporary.

The trio – known as the "health defenders" in Iran – had accused the country’s leadership of mismanaging the response to the pandemic, including instituting a politically motivated ban on vaccines produced in the UK and US.

Iran has some of the highest Covid-19 infection and death rates in the world, with 6.1 million confirmed cases and more than 130,000 deaths, the John Hopkins University coronavirus tracker shows.

It is ranked at 10 in total number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide.

The temporary release comes after Human Rights Watch and 22 other campaign groups this month called for the release of Mr Nili as well as Mehdi Mahmoudian and Arash Keykhosravi.

They were among seven people originally arrested. The other four had already received bail.

“We were still discussing the complaint and what to do when 15 intelligence agents from the judiciary violently broke into the office and arrested us,” Mr Mahmoudian, told The New York Times last week in a phone call from Tehran’s Evin prison.

During the course of their detention, the three spent weeks in solitary confinement and were denied opportunities to speak to their lawyers and families.

They were also denied access to the file detailing the allegations against them, the Centre for Human Rights in Iran reported.

The three are accused of spreading propaganda against the state and membership in an anti-state group that they founded.

The men face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Updated: December 20th 2021, 6:29 PM