Coronavirus: UN experts urge Iran to release jailed activist with COVID-19 symptoms

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A group of UN rights experts called Wednesday on Iran to immediately release jailed activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi, reportedly ill with the novel coronavirus, warning her life was at stake.

“The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late,” the 16 independent experts said in a statement, expressing grave concern that Mohammadi appeared to have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison in north-western Iran.

Mohammadi, 48, is a campaigner against the death penalty and was spokeswoman for the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran – founded by lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi – when she was arrested in May 2015.

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The mother-of-two is serving a 10-year prison sentence for “forming and managing an illegal group,” among other charges.

The rights activist, who suffers from a lung condition, already requested temporary release from prison for medical treatment last month.

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The UN experts, who are appointed by the UN but who do not speak on behalf of the world body, said Mohammadi had first shown symptoms of COVID-19 in late June, and that her situation later deteriorated, with her losing consciousness on July 5.

She was tested for the virus on July 8, but had not yet received the results, they added.

“We are extremely concerned for Ms. Mohammadi’s well-being,” the experts said, pointing to previously-raised concerns “that she and other individuals in Iranian prisons are at great risk if they contract COVID-19.”

“For those with underlying health conditions, such as Ms. Mohammadi, it may have life-or-death consequences.”

Since March, more than 100,000 detainees in Iran have been granted temporary release or sentence remissions to help limit infections in prisons.

The UN experts lamented that Mohammadi and other “prisoners of conscience” had not been included.

They also voiced concern that released prisoners were now being returned to prison despite a second wave of the epidemic in the country.

“Ms. Mohammadi should not be in prison in the first place,” they said, calling on Tehran to “immediately release” her.

Iran has been hard-hit in the global pandemic, with the government’s figures showing nearly 15,000 deaths and 280,000 infections.

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