WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL - An Iranian dissident has contracted the coronavirus at a prison in northern Iran, according to a knowledgeable source, highlighting what U.S. and U.N. officials say is a worsening pandemic threat facing Iran’s prisoners of conscience.
In a message sent Tuesday to VOA Persian, an Iran-based source close to the family of dissident Farhad Meysami said Meysami tested positive for the virus at Rajaei Shahr prison in the city of Karaj and was transferred that morning from his ward to a so-called prison “safe room” for isolation. The source had no further details on the conditions of Meysami’s detention.
The 50-year-old medical doctor and women’s rights activist has been imprisoned by Iran since his July 31, 2018, arrest. Security agents detained him at his Tehran home where they found him in possession of pins with the slogan “I am against compulsory hijab.”
Meysami had been peacefully supporting a 2018 campaign by Iranian women who removed their hijabs in public to protest Islamist regulations requiring the headscarves. He was sentenced in January 2019 to five years in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” a sentence that was upheld on appeal in August that year.
Authorities initially incarcerated Meysami at Tehran’s Evin prison before moving him to Rajaei Shahr last November.
A former Iranian political prisoner first reported Meysami’s coronavirus infection in a series of Monday tweets.
#فرهاد_میثمی در زندان رجائیشهر به کرونا مبتلا شده است؛— Zia Nabavi (@ZiaNabavi1) October 5, 2020
امروز از زندان تماس گرفت و گفت که جواب تستش مثبت شده، اینکه در هفته گذشته احساس بیاشتهائی داشته ولی الان حالش خوب است.
گفتم این خبر را توئیت بکنم، مخالفتی نکرد.
گفتم آیا لازم است بگویم حالِ فعلیتان خوب است؟
Zia Nabavi, who is based in Iran, tweeted that Meysami informed him of the diagnosis in a phone call from prison that day. Nabavi said Meysami reported feeling fine after being unwell last week.
#فرهاد_میثمی که دیروز تست کرونایش مثبت شده بود، صبح امروز به بند امن زندان رجائی شهر منتقل شد.— Zia Nabavi (@ZiaNabavi1) October 6, 2020
بند امن سلولی انفرادی است بدون امکانات بند عمومی و فاقد هر گونه امکانات درمانی.
چند روز پیش #فرهاد_فهندژ زندانی بهائی و هم اتاق دکتر میثمی هم بعد از ابتلا به کرونا این بند منتقل شده بود pic.twitter.com/84DpO792eu
The former political prisoner followed up with a Tuesday tweet in which he also said Meysami had been transferred to a prison safe room that morning. Nabavi described the safe room as an individual cell without medical and other facilities available to inmates in the public wards.
Meysami’s lawyer Mohammad Moghimi also tweeted about his client’s coronavirus diagnosis on Monday.
موکلم دکتر فرهاد میثمی به کرونا مبتلاء شده و باید از مرخصی درمانی بهرهمند شود. بارها گفتهام، دوباره تاکید میکنم؛ زندانیان سیاسی باید بدون قید و شرط آزاد شوند و سلامتی زندانیان عادی نیز باید تضمین شود یا آنان نیز بصورت موقت یا مشروط آزاد شوند.#فرهاد_میثمی #زندانی_سیاسی #کرونا pic.twitter.com/6ljKYTbGqR— Mohammad Moghimi (@Moghimi_Lawyer) October 5, 2020
“My client should be on medical leave,” Moghimi wrote. “I emphasize again: political prisoners must be released unconditionally, and the health of ordinary prisoners must be guaranteed. Otherwise, they must be released temporarily or conditionally.”
Meysami’s infection got a mention in Iranian state media as well. Ensaf News published a Monday report quoting a friend of the dissident, medical book publisher Farhad Teimourzadeh, as saying he heard about the diagnosis from the dissident’s mother, Sedigheh Pishnamaz.
The health risks facing prisoners of conscience in Iran have prompted international concern as the Islamist-ruled nation struggles to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.
The U.S. is concerned by the worsening COVID-19 situation in Iran and we reiterate our offer of assistance first made in February. We join @UNHumanRights' call for Iranian authorities to release all political prisoners from their overcrowded and unsanitary prisons immediately.— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) October 6, 2020
In a Tuesday tweet, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus called for Iranian authorities “to release all political prisoners from their overcrowded and unsanitary prisons immediately.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also issued a statement Tuesday saying poor conditions inside Iranian prisons have “led to the spread of the virus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths.”
“I call for [Iran’s] unconditional release of human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters and all other individuals deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or otherwise exercising their rights,” Bachelet said. “It is particularly important to rectify such injustices at a time when COVID-19 is coursing through Iran’s prisons.”