British-Australian not among 70,000 prisoners freed in Iran for fear of COVID-19 spread


Fearing that the coronavirus outbreak could spread through its prison unchecked, Iran has temporarily freed 70,000 prisoners from jails across the country, but political prisoners including British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has not been released.

Political prisoners have overwhelmingly been excluded from the furloughing of prisoners, with other dual nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-born British aid worker, remaining imprisoned despite growing concerns for their health.

“A number of dual and foreign nationals are at real risk. If they have not … got [coronavirus]they are really fearful of the conditions,” Javaid Rehman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said.

The Australian government spoke to a UN human rights committee session dedicated to the human rights situation in Iran, also calling on Iran to release all political prisoners.

But Australia’s representative did not mention Moore-Gilbert by name, in keeping with Australia’s espoused strategy of quiet diplomacy rather than public pressure on the Iranian regime.

Moore-Gilbert, a University of Melbourne professor, has been held in the Revolutionary Guards-run Ward 2A of Evin prison in Tehran for 18 months, having been sentenced in a secret trial to 10 years in prison for espionage, a charge she denies.

In letters smuggled from prison Moore-Gilbert has revealed she has been held for months in solitary confinement, does not have enough food or medicine, or money to buy personal items. “I feel like I am abandoned and forgotten … I am an innocent victim.”

Moore-Gilbert was arrested in September 2018 after having attended an academic conference at which she was invited to speak in Qom. Fellow conference delegates, and an interview subject for her academic work, flagged her as “suspicious” to the Revolutionary Guards, who arrested her at Tehran airport. No evidence has ever been presented publicly that Moore-Gilbert was involved in espionage, and the Australian government says it rejects her conviction.

Iran has reported 881 new coronavirus infections and 54 new deaths within the past 24 hours, taking the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 8,042, with 291 deaths, according to a health ministry spokesman.

Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi announced a further furloughing of prisoners as authorities seek to counter one of the worst national outbreaks outside of China, where the new virus originated, and one of the highest death rates from the illness.

Raisi said the release of prisoners would continue “to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society”, according to the Mizan news agency. There were no details offered on when those released would be forced to return to jail.

There is widespread concern for the health of prisoners inside Iran’s arcane, under-resourced and overcrowded prison system.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran, speaking with sources inside prisons, say at least eight prisoners have contracted coronavirus, including five in Evin prison in Tehran, where Moore-Gilbert is held.

Wards in Evin prison have run out of medicines, sanitary and hygiene supplies, according to relatives of dual nationals held in the prison.

“We’re receiving disturbing reports that Iranian authorities are neglecting their domestic and international legal obligations to protect prisoners from contracting Covid-19 during this health crisis,” centre for human rights in Iran executive director, Hadi Ghaemi, said. (Source: The Guardian)