One of the oldest inmates inside Iran’s notorious Evin jail has died after authorities ignored medical advice during months of declining health.
Shokrollah Jebeli, 83, an Australian-Iranian citizen, had been held since January 2020 over a financial dispute said to amount to less than $20,000.
The campaign to free Jebeli, run by his son, announced his death on Sunday. “I was just told my father died today,” he wrote on Twitter. “I couldn’t save him.”
Jebeli was diagnosed with high blood pressure, sciatica and had suffered a series of strokes. On one occasion, he was returned to jail after hospital treatment against medical advice on the same day he had a stroke, said human rights group Amnesty International.
The group said requests from prison staff for his release on health grounds were snubbed by prosecutors who would release him only on payment of $290,000.
News of his death came after two British dual citizens, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, were released last week after the payment by the UK government of nearly £400 million ($523m) to the regime to settle a decades-old arms deal debt.
It was not known how Jebeli died but this month he was found unconscious and incontinent. He had regained consciousness and was moved to the prison infirmary at the weekend as his condition deteriorated, his family said.
He had been held in an overcrowded and insect-infested cell with about 19 inmates and had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. His failing health meant that he had relied on other prisoners to help him perform basic daily tasks, Amnesty said.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights raised his case with the Iranian authorities in May last year. UN officials demanded answers about Jebeli being denied access to medicine, his detention in unsuitable conditions and being kept in the dark about the results of medical tests.
He had been facing two separate cases related to the same financial dispute. He had been sentenced to four years and six months for one, while the other was continuing.
The dispute was reportedly connected to a land sale involving a man who once claimed to be from the Ministry of Intelligence, prompting concerns that the legal pursuit of Jebeli was politically motivated. He had denied any wrongdoing.
In a phone call from prison, Jebeli had told Australian newspapers last year that the man was responsible for his detention. “He punished me, this person,” he said. “That person … is a bad person. I am innocent.”
Jebeli was not allowed to choose his own lawyer for the case and the authorities refused to examine evidence put forward by the businessman that could have cleared him, Amnesty said. The family last year described the case as a “mystery” to them.
They said Jebeli wanted to be buried near his family in Australia but they faced a bill of at least $7,500 to repatriate his body.
Mr Jebeli, who first moved to Australia from Iran in 1976 before returning three decades later, was one of a number of prisoners with links to Australia to have been detained.
The Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was detained for more than two years after she was accused of spying. She was released in November 2020 as part of a complicated prisoner swap arrangement.