British prisoner urges action in phone call from Iran prison

Anoosheh Ashoori, 66, remains in Evin jail despite the release of other foreign prisoners

Anoosheh Ashoori with his wife before his arrest in Iran in 2017. He has spent three years in Evin jail. Image provided by family
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An engineer jailed in Iran has accused the British government of ignoring his repeated pleas for help during a get-well message to UK premier Boris Johnson from a prison phone.

Anoosheh Ashoori, 66, a British-Iranian dual national, called his family from the corridor outside his cell at Evin jail, Tehran, to accuse British officials of ignoring requests for help before the government was engulfed by the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Ashoori was arrested in 2017 and jailed for 12 years after the Iranian authorities accused him of spying for Mossad. He denies the charges against him and says that he has been held as a hostage by the Iranian regime as a pawn in a broader geopolitical game.

His family posted his latest message online this week in which he says the government failed to answer questions posed by his MP last month or respond to an earlier recorded voice message sent to the foreign office.

In that message, he warned that inmates were being highly exposed to contracting coronavirus within the Iranian prison system and said he would hold Mr Johnson personally responsible for inaction.

“Those days, Britain was not yet confronted by this virus,” said Mr Ashoori in the latest message posted online by his family.

“The British Government did not pay much attention to my pleading for help as it did not realise the seriousness of the threat and did not take the right precautionary measures until the virus came knocking at the doors of the British house.”

The Iranian government has freed about 85,000 inmates from its jails to try to limit the spread of coronavirus but Mr Ashoori has not been given temporary release unlike British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He was instead moved to a new cell where he has been housed with a murderer, drug dealer and car thief, according to his family, and helped to nurse a fellow inmate who was showing symptoms of Covid-19.

In his audio message, Mr Ashoori wished the prime minister “a quick and complete recovery and hope that you will regain your strength and return to work as soon as possible”.

He added that Mr Johnson – who was being treated in the intensive care unit of a central London hospital – had the privilege of being treated by one of the world’s best health services.

Detainees in Iran were by contrast “trapped in the Islamic Republic’s prisons where medical checks are almost non-existent despite all the fake news and propaganda that is being broadcast by its media,” he said during the two-minute message. “We are the sitting ducks, helplessly awaiting a bleak future that you may confirm if you remain indifferent in the future.”

Iran on Wednesday reported 1,997 new cases, taking the total to nearly 65,000. The confirmed death toll in Iran is 3,993, the fifth highest of any nation.

Nigel Adams, a Foreign Office minister, told Mr Ashoori’s MP on March 2 the UK was talking with Iran and that “under any international rules system, prisoners should be afforded the best possible treatment”. He said that officials could not get into the prisons to assess conditions.