Iran demands Washington release its prisoners as US coronavirus cases balloon

Iran demands Washington release its prisoners as US coronavirus cases balloon
Tehran is urging America to release prisoners held in US jails as the pandemic spreads.
2 min read
28 March, 2020
The calls come from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif [Getty]
Iran has urged the United States on Friday to release Iranians held in US jails on sanctions-related charges due to coronavirus fears, as the infected surpass 100,000.

The calls come from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who took to Twitter and accused the United States of holding a number of Iranians in its prisons.

"US even refuses medical furlough - amid #covid19 - for innocent men jailed in horrific facilities. Release our men," he said on Twitter.

"US has taken several Iranian scientists hostage - without charge or on spurious sanctions charges - & not releasing them; even when its OWN courts reject the absurd charges," Zarif added, referring to a report by the Guardian about a science professor called Dr Sirous Asgari, who is being held in a facility after being acquitted in November on US federal charges of stealing trade secrets.

Prisoners in Iran granted temporary leave

A US Navy veteran released from an Iranian prison last week on a medical furlough says he is sick with symptoms of the coronavirus and is requesting a humanitarian evacuation to the United States for medical treatment.

Michael White was hospitalised on Wednesday in a ward for coronavirus patients in Iran and has experienced fever, fatigue, a cough and shortness of breath since his temporary leave last week, a family spokesman told AP.

White "is an immunocompromised cancer patient and his situation is urgent," Franks said. White has been tested for the coronavirus but the results have not yet come back.

White was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran and was later convicted of insulting Iran's supreme leader and posting private information.

Read More: Coronavirus: Travel restrictions, border shutdowns across the Middle East

He is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted temporary medical leave by Iran as the country tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is feared to have spread rapidly in its overcrowded prisons.

On Thursday, the United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals accused of supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks.

Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the disease as deaths rose to 2,378 on Friday – a jump of 144 – and the number of cases rose to 32,332, according to Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.

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