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British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori speaks out about human rights abuses at Evin prison

Anoosheh Ashoori, a dual British-Iranian national and retired engineer, has been in prison in Iran since 2017. After visiting his mother in Tehran, he was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents on 13 August and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “cooperating with a hostile state against the Islamic Republic” and two years for allegedly obtaining 33,000 euros in “illicit funds”, which he must pay to the state upon release. This conviction followed a grossly unfair trial where he was denied the right to a lawyer of his choosing. 

Now Mr Ashoori, 66, has decided to speak up for the first time about alleged human rights abuses at the Tehran jail where he is imprisoned. 

In a statement from 3 July read by Ashoori during a phone call from prison with his wife, Sherry Izadi, who recorded it and sent it exclusively to VOA Persian, Ashoori said he is willing to cooperate with human rights organisations to raise awareness about what he called “victims of tyranny” at Evin prison.

“These victims are too scared to talk, as they fear that they or their loved ones will be harmed by the ruthless elements of the Islamic regime.”

In his recording, he detailed the kinds of rights abuses that he said he has seen and heard about at Evin. He said those abuses include two cases of prisoners being killed during harsh interrogations, one case of a prisoner dying of medical problems induced by poor prison conditions, and a dozen cases of prisoners being taken to mental hospitals for unknown injections and electric shock treatments.

Ashoori also called for human rights observers and independent medical teams to be allowed to inspect conditions at Evin and interview victims of the alleged abuses that he described.

Ashoori has made a series of audio statements in recent months via a prison-monitored telephone with the help of his wife, who has recorded and made them public at his request. A weeklong audio diary, shared with Emirati newspaper The National in April, detailed what he described as a chaotic response by Evin authorities to the threat of coronavirus contagion in the prison.

In a recording from 10 June shared with the International Observatory of Human Rights, Ashoori appealed to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get him and other British nationals out of Evin.

“I am appealing to you to take action and get me and my fellow British citizens out of Evin prison, where the threat of COVID-19 is as strong as ever.”

“My fear is that we have been forgotten by the British government, as Iran and the United States – which have had no ties for the past 40 years – have succeeded in exchanging several prisoners, whereas the United Kingdom, which has friendly ties to Iran has not succeeded in releasing anyone.”

This additional threat of coronavirus is part of why shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has taken a personal interest in Anoosheh’s case. 

Speaking to Sky News, she said: 

“For years the family haven’t just worried deeply about the situation that Anoosheh is in, but they also have felt very, very let down by a lot of people, particularly by the government.”

Commenting on Anoosheh’s case, a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said: 

“We strongly urge Iran to reunite British-Iranian dual national Mr Ashoori with his family. Our embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access and we have been supporting his family since being made aware of his detention.”

Several people with dual Iranian and foreign nationality like Anoosheh Ashoori and fellow British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have been detained in Iran in recent years. A UN panel in 2018 described “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran, which Tehran denied. Many analysts and observers believe they are being held as bargaining chips for political gains by the Iranian regime.

Ms Izadi told Sky News that her husband’s “only crime is having a British passport.”

In March 2020, the International Observatory of Human Rights interviewed Mr Ashoori’s wife and talked about the horrible conditions at Evin prison and the fear of Covid-19.

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