Iranian scientist who spoke about 'inhumane' conditions in US jail contracts coronavirus

Iranian scientist who spoke about 'inhumane' conditions in US jail contracts coronavirus
Dr Sirous Asgari has been held in an ICE jail for a number of months and his contracted Covid-19, as rights groups call for his release.
3 min read
30 April, 2020
The Trump administration have denied his pleas for release [file photo-Getty]

An Iranian scientist who has been stuck in a US immigration jail has contracted coronavirus, weeks after pleading with authorities to release him, according to his family and attorneys.

Dr Sirous Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor, last month pleaded with the US government to release him, on the basis that he was kept in "inhumane" conditions in detention.

This included being placed in an isolation cell this week in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail in Louisiana.

He has since tested positive for Covid-19, his lawyers found out on Tuesday, and in a phone call with The Guardian, Asgari said he had been suffering from a cough and fever for a number of days.

"It makes sense to send me to the hospital as soon as possible. I don’t trust them at all," the 59-year-old told the publication.

"If something happens, they are not fast responders … I prefer to leave this dirty place."

Last month Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif took to Twitter and accused the United States of holding a number of Iranians in its prisons, including Asgari.

"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.

He referred to a report by The Guardian about Dr Asgari, who is being held in a facility after being acquitted in November on US federal charges of stealing trade secrets.

Rights groups have been calling for his release since he was detained, including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who penned a letter on 10 April calling on the centre to release him on the basis that his detention has "placed his health at serious risk".

Asgari has a long history in the US, including completing his Ph.D. in 1997 at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, as well as two children who live in the country.

In 2017, he was charged with fraud and trade secret theft relating to his work with a university in Ohio, before being acquitted in 2019.

NIAC said he was "arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) based on unsubstantiated charges of theft of trade secrets which resulted in a lengthy two-year trial.

"Despite being fully exonerated of all federal charges in November 2019, Dr. Asgari was taken into ICE custody, ostensibly because the US had not properly stamped his original visa on entry – even though the charges triggering the visa revocation had been dismissed. He has been unjustly detained ever since," the open letter continued.

"The crowded and unsanitary conditions in civil immigration detention centers are nothing short of horrendous," it added.

"This mass [detention] under this outbreak of a nasty virus is absolutely wrong," Asgari said after learning of his test results.

"What more proof do they need?"

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