Nasrin Sotoudeh contracted Covid-19 while in prison and this may have been the reason she was abruptly released last week, her husband said.
The distinguished lawyer, who was issued a 38-year prison sentence for her work defending civil rights activists in Iran, was granted temporary furlough from Qarchak Women’s Prison amid concerns about her health on November 7.
Reza Khandan, Nasrin’s husband, took to Twitter yesterday to report that his wife had been infected with coronavirus the previous week.
“Last Wednesday,” he wrote, “during my first meeting with Nasrin at Qarchak Prison, she said that coronavirus had come to her ward and many people had fallen ill. That’s why they were in a hurry to process her leave. Today, Nasrin has tested positive.”
Even before testing positive, Nasrin Sotoudeh was seriously ill and human rights advocates around the world had been demanding her release. The 57-year-old was diagnosed with a heart condition on arriving at Qarchak, after being transferred from Evin Prison in Tehran, where she had just ended a 50-day hunger strike.
Qarchak Prison in Varamin is widely regarded as one of the worst prisons in Iran, with a reputation for violence, torture and extrajudicial killings – but also appallingly unsanitary conditions and overcrowding. The site, which houses female offenders, is understood to have been an agricultural facility prior to its conversion.
Last week IranWire spoke to Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian attorney general and justice minister, and international legal counsel to Nasrin Sotoudeh. He told IranWire that in his view, the transfer was “a form of assassination”.
“Not only is Qarchak the end of the world,” he said, “but even Iranian doctors have said this was intended to be a final silencing.
"Nasrin is someone who embodies the struggle for human rights in Iran and as a whole, who has fought for people destined for execution, religious minorities and peaceful protesters as well as other human rights defenders. Her prosecution and persecution is Iran's attempt to contain her voice."
Throughout 2020 other disturbing reports have emerged not only of coronavirus outbreaks in Iranian prisons, but of the outright denial of outbreaks by the prison authorities. Attempts to contain the threat in some of these facilities have been utterly inadequate, with reports surfacing of prison guards resorting to torches and dishwasher soap to try to decontaminate their dangerously overcrowded wards.
Last month, the political prisoner Narges Mohammadi was also released from Zanjan prison after a coronavirus outbreak there. She told IranWire that controlling the spread of coronavirus in this facility had been “unworkable” because new arrivals kept streaming in from outside, with prisoners given just one liter of bleach a month with which to keep clean. “I asked them over and over to buy us hand sanitizer, at our own expense,” she said, “but for a long time they wouldn’t.”