Iran prisoners fear coronavirus spread

Evin prison guards rowed after moving handcuffed inmate to hospital

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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Prisoners at Iran’s Evin prison are planning to resist a planned move to a new ward at the jail where they fear an inmate infected with coronavirus was held, according to family members.

Retired engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, 65, told his wife during a daily phone call from prison that the the suspected infected inmate had been moved to hospital handcuffed to a prison guard after suffering from the symptoms.

Mr Ashoori told her that a cellmate had witnessed a furious row after the guard accused his superior officer of putting him at risk during the minibus ride from the prison. Inmates believe that the prison officer has also gone to hospital, Mr Ashoori reported.

Relatives spoke of their growing concerns on Wednesday at the threat of infection in a country that has officially declared 15 deaths.

Iran, which has reported nearly 100 cases, has been accused of covering up the scale of the outbreak. Iran’s deputy health minister has tested positive for the virus as has Tehran-based MP Mahmoud Sadeghi.

Confirming the news of his infection on Twitter, Mr Sadeghi urged the government to release political prisoners held in the country’s jails to allow them to escape the epidemic.

“I give this message in a situation where I have little hope of living in this world,” he wrote.

He also released a video of himself in isolation when he said that he was fine.

Inmates have reported that large sections of Evin prison have been cleared over the past few weeks, leaving mainly political and security prisoners at the jail.

Mr Ashoori, a retired engineer jailed for 12 years after the Iranian authorities accused him of spying for Mossad, has been told along with other prisoners to pack his belongings in preparation for a move within the jail.

But they fear being moved to an area where the inmate was held before he was taken to hospital.

“They’re planning to resist being move there unless they use force,” said Mr Ashoori’s wife, Sherry Izadi, who receives daily phone calls from the prison about the situation. “So they are in a state of limbo.”

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was held in 2016 and jailed for five years, said the rumours highlighted the precarious position of the inmates.

Richard Ratcliffe told The Guardian that the country was in a terrifying situation because of a “lack of medicines, lack of management, and most of all a lack of transparency”.

The UK's ambassador is understood to have asked Tehran about the reports. The Iranian authorities have denied there were any cases at the prison.

Mr Ashoori, a British-Iranian dual national, was arrested in 2017 on what his family say were trumped up charges as part of its ongoing diplomatic disputes with the UK.

They believe that the key to the release of the father-of-two is the UK paying off a £380 million debt after reneging on a deal to supply tanks to the country following the 1979 revolution.

More than 80,000 people have been reported as infected with Covid-19 in 34 countries around the globe. The virus has resulted in at least 2,700 deaths, the World Health Organisation said.