Pompeo calls for release of Americans wrongfully detained in Iran

US Secretary of State said reports of coronavirus spreading to Iranian prisons were 'deeply concerning'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on Iran to immediately release on humanitarian grounds all wrongfully detained Americans being held in prisons in the country.

Mr Pompeo on Tuesday said reports that Covid-19 has spread to Iranian prisons were “deeply troubling” and demand the full and immediate release of all American citizens.

“The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” he said.

Iran is one of the worst hit by the outbreak, with 291 dead and 8,042 testing positive.

“Their detention amid increasingly deteriorating conditions defies basic human decency,” Mr Pompeo said.

“The Iranian regime recently released 70,000 prisoners due to the outbreak of Covid-19, demonstrating its ability to grant clemency and show mercy.

"Yet it continues to unjustly detain several American citizens, without cause or justification."

Iran’s head of judiciary on Monday announced the temporary release of prisoners.

Ebrahim Raisi said the release of prisoners would continue “to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society", the Mizan news agency reported.

Mr Raisi did not provide further details or say when freed inmates would return to prison.

Mr Pompeo on Tuesday said that any country considering whether to provide Iran with humanitarian assistance in relation to the coronavirus should in return ask them to release all wrongly detained dual and foreign national citizens.

“The United States will not rest until all Americans wrongfully detained abroad are returned home,” he said.

On Monday, Washington urged Tehran to secure the release of former FBI agent Bob Levinson on the 13th anniversary of his disappearance from an Iranian island during an investigation.

Mr Pompeo said the former agent’s family “deserves answers” from the regime about his condition.

On Tuesday, a US judge ruled that the Iranian regime was responsible for snatching and torturing Levinson, 71, who was last known to be alive in 2011 because of photographs emailed by his captors.