Iran: amid coronavirus fears, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be released unconditionally
Responding to reports that the jailed British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be released on furlough from Tehran’s Evin Prison following reports from her family that she could have contracted coronavirus in the jail, Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:
“We sincerely hope reports of coronavirus in Evin and other prisons in Iran are untrue, but this should be a wake-up call to the Iranian authorities to improve conditions of detention and access to health care for everyone in detention.
“We renew our call to immediately and unconditionally release Nazanin, a prisoner of conscience who shouldn’t even be behind bars at all.
“Nazanin’s health has already suffered because of her mistreatment in prison, where she has previously been denied vital medical care. From numerous past cases, we know the Iranian authorities will sometimes use the denial of medical treatment as an extra layer of punishment for prisoners of conscience, so there are already heightened fears for Nazanin.
“The risk of coronavirus infecting prisoners in Iran adds urgency to the need to improve conditions of detention. Prisoners are usually held in overcrowded, unsanitary and poorly-ventilated conditions. This, combined with the denial of adequate medical care, often exacerbates prisoners’ pre-existing medical problems or contributes to new ones, sometimes causing irreparable damage to their health.
“Though it remains unconfirmed, the slightest possibility of prisoners being exposed to the coronavirus in Evin Prison raises grave concerns and is a chilling prospect for Nazanin and other prisoners, including jailed human rights defenders.”
Grossly unfair trial and ongoing health concerns
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, a British-Iranian dual-national charity worker, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport on 3 April 2016 prior to boarding a plane back to the UK after a regular family visit to the country with her infant daughter Gabriella. After being detained in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 after being convicted of “membership of an illegal group” in a grossly unfair trial by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is presently serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Since being jailed, she has suffered a serious decline in her physical and mental health, something her husband has repeatedly drawn attention to during a high-profile campaign on his wife’s behalf. Her requests for periods of temporary release - for which she is eligible - have been met on only one occasion (August 2018), followed three days later by a return to jail. Amnesty described her return to jail as a “crushing disappointment”. She is suffering from numerous health problems - including severe arm, neck and back pain - and there have been serious concerns over her mental health.
Amnesty has designated Zaghari-Ratcliffe a prisoner of conscience targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally.