WASHINGTON - The wife of an Iranian dissident recently jailed for 16 years has denounced Iran’s Islamist rulers for rejecting her appeals to furlough her sick husband as the coronavirus plagues the nation’s prisons.
In a Tuesday phone interview with VOA Persian from her home in Mashhad, Sedigheh Maliki-Fard said she had written repeatedly to the northeastern city’s Revolutionary Court and even met with its deputy prosecutor to seek the temporary release of her husband, Hashem Khastar.
Iranian authorities have announced furloughs for tens of thousands of prisoners since late February in part to protect them from the virus, but they have excluded dissidents with more than five-year prison terms from the furloughs.
Khastar, a teachers’ rights advocate, was arrested in August 2019 after joining 13 other activists in signing a June 2019 open letter calling for the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Prosecutors charged him with membership in an anti-government group, spreading anti-government propaganda and administering a Telegram social media channel with the intention of disrupting national security, alleged offenses for which he received a final 16-year prison sentence on March 29.
Sedigheh said court officials told her they could not furlough Khastar because his prison term is longer than five years. She said her protestations that her husband was suffering from a gastrointestinal illness in Mashhad’s Vakilabad prison made no difference.
“Officials of the Islamic Republic either believe that prisoners sentenced to more than five years somehow won’t contract the coronavirus, or they believe that it would be a good thing for those prisoners to be infected with the virus and die,” Sedigheh said.
Khastar’s wife also said she wants Iranian officials to hear her voice and show respect for the Iranian people. “My husband is innocent,” she said. “He and other activists merely sent a letter to Khamenei and urged him to resign if he could not run the country.”
The June 11, 2019, letter said: “The time has come for the people, thinkers, and caring individuals to lead a national movement by setting aside conciliatory tendencies that have facilitated the destruction of our culture, civilization and national wealth, and with all honesty step into the ring and demand fundamental changes to the Constitution and the resignation of the Leader who is unjustly extending his authority on a daily basis.”
The Trump administration has criticized Iran’s detention of multiple dissidents in recent years.
In a March 25 briefing with reporters, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Iran to release all people “wrongfully detained” in the country, including several Americans, citing what he said was an “enormous health risk” to such individuals from coronavirus outbreaks in Iranian prisons.