LONDON: Iran is to release around 54,000 prisoners on a temporary basis in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, amid claims that Tehran lied to the UK over the condition of British-Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said prisoners who tested negative for the virus would be granted furlough if they could post bail, to prevent the spread in the country’s prison system.
He added that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in “perfect health” and had been permitted to talk to her family by phone, calling reports of a deterioration in her condition “fake news.”
But her husband Richard Ratcliffe said she had been refused proper medical access in Evin prison in northern Tehran, and had not been tested for the virus despite displaying symptoms.
He told the Daily Telegraph that Iranian officials had told the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been tested for the virus and that her results had been negative, which he said was untrue.
He said he was “skeptical” that his wife would be granted furlough even if she had tested negative, hinting that it would only be done if in the political interests of the Iranian state.
“She last had furlough for three days in August 2018, which was a very negative experience, and I asked the UK government never to push for it again,” he said.
“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to pressure her to accept furlough in January 2019 to coincide with a hearing for the IMS (International Military Services) debt court case that was scheduled between the UK and Iran. There is a scheduled hearing for the same court case in March 2020.”
“The IMS case refers to a legal dispute between the UK and Iran, with London accused of owing Tehran around £400 million ($512 million) over a failed 1979 deal to supply Iran with tanks and armored vehicles.
“Zaghari-Ratcliffe, it has been suggested, is being held partly in order to exert pressure on the UK government to fulfill the alleged debt.”
This is complicated, but…
First, a debt is not a crime, so it’s not “alleged” under any circumstances.
Second, the debt is not disputed, only the method of payment. So it’s just a debt, no “accused of” or any adjective.
The move to release prisoners en masse came as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said he had put the armed forces on alert to assist medical workers to contain the coronavirus outbreak — the worst such outbreak outside its country of origin, China.
Official figures from Iran’s Health Ministry say the current number of confirmed cases stands at 2,336, with 77 known fatalities.
But with the current spread of the virus and a heightened mortality rate compared to other countries (3.3 percent in Iran compared to less than 1 percent worldwide), independent experts have suggested that the true number of Iranian cases could be as high as 18,000.
At least 23 Iranian MPs (8 percent of the total) have contracted coronavirus, including Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi.