Iran’s Judiciary Spokesman on Tuesday denied reports that some political prisoners including British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) in prison and said all of them are in “perfect health”.
ّIn a live interview on the state-run television on Tuesday Gholam-Hossein Esmaili said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff and other political prisoners including Neda Naji, Hengaeh Shahidi and Zia Nabavi are in perfect health despite some reports.
On February 29 the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian who has been in prison in Iran since April 2016, said she was badly ill and suspected that she may have been infected with coronavirus in prison.
“I can say that the conditions that security prisoners are held in are much better than for other prisoners,” Esmaili claimed and without offering names suggested that some political prisoners may be going on furlough soon.
Esmaili said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in touch with her family and informed them that she was fine. Tulip Siddiq, the British MP, on Tuesday in a tweet said she has news from the Iranian ambassador to London that her constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, may be released on furlough on Tuesday or Wednesday. According to Siddiq Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has told her family that she has still not been tested for coronavirus.
In the interview broadcast by the state TV the Judiciary Spokesman also said more than 54,000 prisoners have been allowed to go on furlough since last Wednesday when the Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi) issued an order to allow some prisoners to go on furlough after "posting suitable bail”.
The furlough permission, however, does not apply to "security prisoners" sentenced to more than five years for "acting against national security". Iran does not officially acknowledge the term "political prisoner" and instead uses "security prisoner".
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran human rights activists have repeatedly expressed concern about an epidemic in Iranian prisons due to lack of medical resources and have called on the authorities to allow prisoners, including political prisoners, to go on furlough to keep them safe.
On February 23 the families of 14 political figures who have been imprisoned for demanding Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's resignation, in a letter to Iran's Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi said the Judiciary will be responsible if coronavirus infection spreads among inmates and a "massive human tragedy" occurs in prisons.
Since Thursday Iranian news agencies have reported the temporary release of a number of prisoners including Neda Naji and Zia Nabavi.