Iran urges US to free Iranian prisoners amid coronavirus pandemic

Foreign Minister Zarif accuses US of keeping innocent men jailed in ‘horrific facilities’ during COVID-19 outbreak.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a cabinet meeting in Tehran on March 11, 2020 [File: Presidency of Iran/Anadolu]

Iran’s government has urged the United States to release Iranians held in US jails on sanctions-related issues due to fears about the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Washington of holding a number of Iranians in its prisons and said under these circumstances they should be set free.

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

Meanwhile, the death toll in Iran from the coronavirus rose to 2,378 on Friday, a jump of 144. Iran is one of the worst hit countries in the world.

Zarif also referred to a report by The Guardian newspaper about Sirous Asgari, a science professor, who it said was still being held in a crowded facility after being acquitted in November on US federal charges of stealing trade secrets.

“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 tweeted.

On Thursday, the US 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 even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak.

Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after US President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.

However, broader US sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.

Earlier, Iran’s health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 144 people had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 2,378, while the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 2,926 to 32,332.

Source: Reuters