The wife of a jailed Iranian dissident has criticized Iran’s government for refusing to grant her husband a single day of sick leave in his 14 months of detention despite his multiple ailments and risk of coronavirus exposure in prison.
In an interview with VOA Persian from her home in Mashhad this week, Sedigheh Maliki-Fard said her husband, Hashem Khastar, 67, a teachers' rights advocate, has been “exhausted” by health problems and poor living conditions at the city’s Vakilabad prison, where he has been jailed since February.
Intelligence agents arrested Khastar in August 2019 after he joined 13 other activists in signing an open letter calling for the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khastar was detained by the intelligence ministry in Mashhad and denied bail prior to his February transfer to Vakilabad.
Iranian prosecutors charged Khastar with membership in an anti-government group, spreading anti-government propaganda and running a Telegram social media channel with the intention of disrupting national security. An appellate court sentenced him to 16 years in prison on March 29.
Maliki-Fard said her husband and his fellow inmates at Vakilabad have been held in a small room with no exposure to natural light. She also expressed concern about the spread of the coronavirus at the prison and the lack of disinfectants to keep inmates safe.
VOA could not independently verify her account of conditions at the prison because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.
International rights activists also have expressed concerns about prisoners of conscience contracting the virus in what they describe as Iran’s unsanitary and overcrowded jails. They have called for their release.
Iran granted temporary releases or furloughs to tens of thousands of prisoners in March to try to curb prison outbreaks of the virus. But it excluded prisoners sentenced to more than five-year terms for peaceful activities designated by authorities as national security offenses.
Maliki-Fard also said Khastar has recently been suffering from high blood pressure in addition to a gastrointestinal illness that she described to VOA in May.
In that prior interview, she said she had written repeatedly to Mashhad’s Revolutionary Court and had even met with its deputy prosecutor to request sick leave for Khastar, but said they rejected her appeals, citing her husband’s prison term as being greater than five years.
There has been no comment from Iranian officials about Khastar’s case in state media in recent months.
Prior to his August 2019 arrest, Khastar had been arrested four other times for his labor rights and pro-democracy activism between 2004 and 2018, according to the Iran Prison Atlas of U.S. advocacy group United for Iran.