Iran releases jailed UK resident Aras Amiri on furlough

Tehran furloughs an imprisoned woman who had been working for Britain’s cultural outreach agency as Iran's official coronavirus death toll reaches 4,110.

al-monitor A female prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006. Photo by REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl.

Apr 9, 2020

Amid fears that the coronavirus could be running rampant throughout Iran’s jails, another UK resident has been released temporarily from the country’s most notorious prison.

“Aras Amiri who has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran's Evin Prison since 2018 ... has been temporarily released on furlough," Amnesty International UK board director Daren Nair tweeted today. "The Iranian authorities must let her come home to London to be with her fiance."

Before Amiri’s arrest, the 33-year-old had been working for Britain’s cultural outreach agency fostering artistic exchanges between the UK and Iran. In March 2018, the London-based Iranian citizen traveled to her home country to visit with her ailing grandmother and was arrested seven days later for alleged spying.

Iran's judiciary claimed Amiri had confessed to working with British intelligence. But in an appeal letter to Iran’s chief justice, Amiri said she had been jailed for refusing to go along with Iranian intelligence forces who asked her to spy for them.

“I directly rejected their offer for cooperation and told them that I can only work in my own field and nothing else,” she wrote from prison in June 2019.

In August, Iran's Supreme Court upheld Amiri’s 10-year prison sentence for “cultural infiltration in society through arts and her widespread activities.”

Her temporary release comes as human rights organizations warn of the potential for COVID-19 to quickly spread through Iran’s crowded, disease-ridden jails. The Islamic Republic has released tens of thousands of prisoners on furlough in the past month, including British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and US Navy veteran Michael White.

But a number of dual nationals and foreigners — held mainly on trumped-up espionage charges — remain in prison, including British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Iranian-American businessman Siamek Namazi.

Reports suggest that the coronavirus has already spread widely inside Iran’s prisons, including at Evin, where many high-profile foreign prisoners are held. Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, wrote that he was concerned about “overcrowding, poor nutrition and a lack of hygiene” in Iran’s jails, noting that many detainees already suffered from malnutrition and disease.

Iran remains one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. Iran’s Health Ministry reported today that the number of confirmed cases has risen to 66,220 with a death toll of 4,110.

Thousands of prisoners across Iran have staged protests over concerns they may contract COVID-19 if not released. According to Amnesty International, security forces responded with live ammunition and tear gas, killing more than 30 inmates at several prisons this week.

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