In a Thursday phone interview with VOA Persian from Tehran, Reza Khandan faulted the Iranian government for temporarily freeing thousands of common criminals from jails since late February in part to protect them from the virus, while refusing to do the same for dissidents such as his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh. “In this very dangerous situation with the coronavirus spreading in Iranian prisons, authorities have treated the political prisoners more severely,” Khandan said.
Sotoudeh is an Iranian defense lawyer who has been detained since June 2018 in Tehran’s Evin prison. Khandan previously has said she is serving a more than 30-year sentence for alleged national security offenses related to her work in defending Iranian women arrested for removing their compulsory hijabs or headscarves in acts of public protest against their Islamist rulers.
Iran has detained several human rights defenders in recent years on similar pretexts. “The treatment of lawyers by the regime is conveying a specific message,” Khandan said. “The message is that law and justice are meaningless to the regime.”
Khandan was detained in September 2018 and charged with subversion for his public campaigning for the release of his wife, who had been arrested three months earlier. He was released in December 2018 and sentenced the following month to six years in prison but has remained free pending an appeal.
In a separate video interview with the U.N. Human Rights Office published Thursday, Khandan said he has major concerns about Sotoudeh’s health due to what he called inadequate medical facilities and a lack of basic hygiene and sanitary equipment in Evin prison.
“My wife has underlying health conditions,” Khandan said. “When I talked to her yesterday, she told me that in the past two months, she had not gone to the medical ward as she is afraid of contracting COVID-19. Instead, she has tried to treat herself and put up with the situation.”
Khandan also appealed for international support for Iran’s prisoners of conscience. “I hope that attention to the situation from public opinion and from international organizations will increase, and that they will make serious requests to the Iranian government to release political prisoners,” he said.
Iran’s judiciary has said dissidents serving more than five years in prison on charges designated as national security offenses are not eligible for the coronavirus-related furloughs.
In a statement accompanying its interview with Khandan, the U.N. Human Rights Office said it welcomed Iran’s temporary releases of thousands of prisoners in recent months as an urgent public health measure. But it said Iran also must free political prisoners, human rights lawyers and defenders, journalists, artists, conservationists and dual and foreign nationals who have been denied the furloughs.
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