Jailed UK-Iranian pleads with PM Johnson to help inmates
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The sound is a little fuzzy but Anoosheh Ashoori's voice does not falter as he delivers his message to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from inside Iran's Evin jail.
"We are in desperate need of your help," the retired engineer, who holds British and Iranian passports, says in a recording made on the phone to his wife in London.
During the three years since his arrest in Tehran, he has endured interrogations and stints in solitary that made him try to end his life, but the 66-year-old's biggest fear now is coronavirus.
"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," he urged Johnson, in the recording shared with AFP.
"My fear is that we have been forgotten by the British government."
Ashoori was visiting his mother in Tehran in August 2017 when he was arrested, accused of spying for Israel and later jailed for 10 years, his family says.
Dual nationals from various countries have been detained in Iran, in what campaigners and the British government say is a policy of hostage-taking aimed at pressuring the West.
In an interview in the garden of Ashoori's southeast London home, his wife, Sherry Izadi, dismisses the charges against him as "preposterous" and says his trial only lasted an hour.
The father-of-two had never been involved in politics, she said, telling AFP: "We're very ordinary -- we're extremely unimportant."
And yet, "he went out one day to do some shopping and he never came back".
- 'Nothing to lose' -
She said initially, long interrogations and time spent in solitary confinement threatened to break her husband, who staged a 17-day hunger strike and tried to kill himself.
Since his conviction he has been better, keeping fit and joining impromptu lessons with fellow inmates, but the family fears for the future.
"It would be unimaginable for someone innocent to stay somewhere for 10 years for something he's never done," she says.
Some foreign prisoners were given temporary release at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, including British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose husband has campaigned relentlessly for her freedom.
But Ashoori remains in jail and the family are increasingly impatient with the lack of progress made by the British government.
Izadi met Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in October but says "nothing has come of it".
The Foreign Office advised them not to talk to the media while it tried the diplomatic route, but Ashoori has asked them to release his statements, which form part of a diary he is recording in daily calls with his wife.
"He says he's got nothing to lose," his daughter Elika, 33, told AFP.
- Diplomatic pawns -
The Foreign Office has recorded around a dozen incidents of people with British passports being arrested in Iran since 2015, and in May last year it advised dual British-Iranian nationals not to visit.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in December 2018 accused Tehran of using foreign passport holders as "pawns of diplomatic leverage" -- a claim Iran strongly denies.
Supporters of Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe believe their cases are linked to a long-running legal battle over £400 million ($500 million) Iran paid to Britain in the 1970s for tanks that were never delivered.
But campaigners have also cried foul over the detention of dual nationals from other countries, including French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah.
In another message sent from prison, Ashoori says one of his fellow inmates witnessed Adelkhah being brought into jail.
She was "kicked and dragged on the floor by her hair, and was showered with curses and other physical and verbal abuse" by secret police guards, he said.
- Due judicial process -
A Foreign Office spokesman said the fate of the dual nationals held in Iran was "a priority" and raised with Tehran at the highest levels of government.
"We strongly urge Iran to reunite British-Iranian dual national Mr Ashoori with his family," a spokesman said.
But the Iranian embassy in London rejected any claims of politically motivated charges.
Ashoori had been convicted of "national security-related crimes by the Iranian judiciary in a due judicial process in which Mr. Ashoori had the right and opportunity to defend himself," it said in a statement to AFP.
"Iranian authorities ensures proper access to medical services for prisoners inside or outside prisons based on regular checks."
© 2020 AFP