WASHINGTON - Iranian authorities have refused to free a jailed Baha’i woman who apparently qualifies for a furlough, leaving her family worried about her exposure to the coronavirus in prison.
In a Wednesday phone interview with VOA Persian, a source familiar with Negin Ghadamian’s situation said an Iranian judicial official recently spoke to a Ghadamian relative and told the family member that Ghadamian meets the criteria to be granted a furlough, or temporary release, from Tehran’s Evin prison.
Ghadamian is a Baha’i teacher who has been serving a five-year term at Evin prison since December 2017. An Iranian court had convicted her years earlier of security offenses related to her work in educating other Iranian Baha’is enrolled in the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), one of the main educational organizations of the Iranian religious minority community.
Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi issued a directive in March authorizing prisons to furlough tens of thousands of inmates, in part to relieve overcrowding in the country’s unsanitary jails as they began experiencing the coronavirus outbreaks. The directive said prisoners convicted of security crimes and sentenced to jail terms of “more than five years” would be excluded from the temporary releases.
The source who spoke to VOA said the judiciary official told Ghadamian’s family member that Ghadamian’s five-year sentence was within the timeframe permitted for furloughs. But the source did not provide the name of the official who made that assessment and there has been no public record of it.
The source said the family member has made multiple recent visits to Evin prison to appeal for Ghadamian to be furloughed and submit a letter making that request, but prison authorities refused to respond or accept the letter. The source said Ghadamian’s family is worried about her fate and that of other inmates, given the deficiencies in Iran’s justice system and the spread of the virus in prisons where medical facilities are minimal relative to Iranian hospitals.
Evin prison authorities rejected a previous furlough request for Ghadamian in 2018, when she sought external medical treatment for severe dental problems.
Iranian security agents first detained Ghadamian in May 2011 and released her after interrogation as part of an operation targeting BIHE staff. Iran’s Shiite Islamist rulers consider the nation’s estimated 300,000 Baha’is to be heretics with no religion and routinely arrest them for practicing their beliefs, charging them with national security offenses without disclosing evidence.
Iranian Revolutionary Court judge Mohammad Moghisseh convicted Ghadamian in 2012 of acting against national security through membership of an “illegal” Baha’i organization. He sentenced her in 2013 to five years in prison.
Ghadamian appealed the verdict and avoided having to start her prison term until December 2017, when Iranian authorities detained her at Tabriz airport as she and her husband Pouya Oladi were about to fly to Europe. She then was taken to Evin prison to begin serving her sentence.
Moghisseh, who presides over Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December 2019. It said he had overseen “countless unfair trials, during which charges went unsubstantiated and evidence was disregarded.”
The U.S. Treasury also said Moghisseh “pressed questionable charges against several members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority, prosecuting them for supposed participation in activities such as propaganda against the state and assembly and collusion against national security, after they reportedly held prayer and worship ceremonies with other members.”
The European Union earlier had sanctioned Moghisseh in April 2011 as a human rights violator for issuing long prison terms and death sentences during “unfair” trials for social and political activists and journalists.
The Baha’i International Community, a global organization representing the faith, said in April it was “extremely concerned” about Iran’s ongoing detention of 50 to 100 Bahai’s, saying it believed they were vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus in prison.