A group of UN human rights experts has called on Iran to immediately release imprisoned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has reportedly been suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 -- the illness caused by the new coronavirus -- "before it is too late."
"The group of 16 experts expressed grave concerns that Ms. Mohammadi appears to have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison," the UN Human Rights Council said in a statement on July 22.
Mohammadi, who is serving a prison sentence for anti-government propaganda and membership of a banned group opposed to the death penalty, has been in detention since 2015.
She received a combined 16-year prison sentence in May 2016, of which she will need to serve 10 years under Iranian law.
The UN experts called on authorities to give Mohammadi, who showed the first symptoms of COVID-19 on June 29, the results of the test she took on 8 July, and to move her to a hospital for proper care.
Mohammadi, who served as the spokesperson for the Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, said in a letter from prison published online on July 13, that she and 11 of her cellmates were suspected of having been infected with the coronavirus. One of her cellmates subsequently tested positive.
In her letter, the activist said “signs” of an outbreak of coronavirus emerged in the Zanjan prison, some 330 kilometers west of the capital Tehran, at the beginning of this month, and called on Iran’s Health Ministry to send a representative to the prison to investigate the situation.
“We are extremely concerned for Ms. Mohammadi’s well-being. We previously raised concerns that she and other individuals in Iranian prisons are at great risk if they contract COVID-19 and we called for their immediate release,” the UN experts said.
“For those with underlying health conditions, such as Ms. Mohammadi, it may have life-or-death consequences. The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late.”
The experts also voiced concern that there may be more cases in prison, as prisoners previously released on furlough are being returned to the detention facility, and the number of virus infections is spiking again in Iran.
Iran has been struggling to contain the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 14,600 Iranians and infected nearly 280,000, according to official figures.
Real numbers are believed to be significantly higher.
“Ms. Mohammadi should not be in prison in the first place,” the experts said, adding that her detention is arbitrary.
“We yet again call on Iran to immediately release Ms. Mohammadi, as well as all others who are currently denied their right to liberty in contravention of Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the UN experts said.