Evin prisoner pleads for release from Iranian ‘hellhole’

On third anniversary of his imprisonment, Anoosheh Ashoori appeals to leaders of Iran and UK as Covid-19 sweeps Tehran jail

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A British-Iranian man held in Iran’s Evin jail on trumped-up charges has appealed to the leaders of his two countries to release him from his “hellhole” before he succumbs to the coronavirus after a spike of cases in the notorious prison.

In a recorded message sent from jail, Anoosheh Ashoori, 66, said that the pain of his 10-year prison sentence has been compounded by fears that Covid-19 may prevent him from holding his UK-based wife and two children again.

Mr Ashoori sent the message to mark the third anniversary of his detention in the jail, where inmates include political prisoners and dual citizens who are being held as bargaining chips by Iran. The retired engineer was detained in 2017 and convicted of spying for Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad – following a pattern of such sentences for dual citizens who travelled to the country.

His appeal came after 12 inmates in another part of the jail were confirmed earlier this week as being infected with Covid-19, according to reports from within the prison.

Mr Ashoori said that lax hygiene conditions at the jail meant that the spread of the virus to his wing was inevitable.

“With the rampant rise of Covid-19 in Iran, particularly in Evin, I am not even sure if I will have the chance to hold my wife and children in my arms again,” Mr Ashoori said in the message recorded in a phone call to his wife.

“Dear Prime Minister Johnson and President Rouhani, please put yourselves in my position and tell me what lengths you would go to as an innocent man to be with your family.

“I implore you to get me and my fellow British nationals out of this hellhole before it is too late for us. Our lives are in your hands.”

Mr Ashoori told his wife that the authorities had been blindsided by the outbreak and had started re-releasing inmates on furlough over the past two days.

Some 100,000 prisoners were released earlier this year from the country’s overcrowded prisons in an attempt prevent the pandemic from sweeping through the jails and the wider community.

Mr Ashoori’s appeal comes after the Iranian judiciary announced on Tuesday that two more dual citizens had been jailed for a decade for spying for Germany, the UK and Israel.

Campaigners dismissed the convictions as the latest examples of state hostage-taking, designed to put pressure on their governments as it suffers under the sanctions and economic turmoil.

The Iranian-British lawyer Shahram Shirkhani was accused of spying for Britain's MI6 agency and passing on classified information about the central bank and defence ministry contracts.

Dual-citizen Massud Mossaheb had been spying for Mossad and Germany while working under the guise of general secretary of an Austrian-Iranian society, according to an official.

“For many dual citizens, simply visiting Iran carries with it the risk of imprisonment or incarceration and this systematic tactic of hostage-taking must be ended,” said David Ibsen, the president of American advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran.

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006. Iranian police detained 70 people at a demonstration in favour of women's rights, the judiciary said on Tuesday, adding it was ready to review reports that the police had beaten some demonstrators.  REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)

The pair are among an unknown number of dual citizens and other foreigners held over security-related charges.

They also include French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was handed a five-year jail term for “conspiring against national security” and British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.