Iranian scientist in US jail contracts coronavirus

TEHRAN, Apr. 29 (MNA) – An Iranian scientist who has been pleading for weeks to be released from a US immigration jail due to his fragile health has contracted Covid-19, according to his family and attorneys.

Dr Sirous Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor who spoke out in March about the unsanitary and “inhumane” conditions in detention, was placed in an isolation cell this week inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) jail in Louisiana, Guardian reported.

His lawyers learned on Tuesday that his Covid-19 test was positive, and in a phone call with the Guardian, Asgari had a bad cough and said he had had a fever for days.

He and his family are calling for his release to a medical facility where he can receive proper care.

“It makes sense to send me to the hospital as soon as possible. I don’t trust them at all,” the 59-year-old said on Tuesday amid repeated coughing fits. “If something happens, they are not fast responders … I prefer to leave this dirty place.”

Asgari’s story sparked international outrage after he spoke about his fears of Covid-19 spreading inside crowded Ice facilities with substandard cleaning practices and a lack of supplies. The professor, who has a history of respiratory problems, was exonerated in a US sanctions trial last year, but Ice has refused to release him or allow him to return to Iran. Iran’s foreign minister recently called for his release, as have some US lawmakers and human rights groups.

Ice informed the attorneys that Asgari’s test was positive on Tuesday, but Asgari said Ice had not yet told him the results and that he had learned of them on a call with his family and lawyers. “The nurse … always says the test results are not in,” Asgari said, noting that the medical staff checked on him twice or three times a day.

Ice told Asgari’s lawyers he would only be released to a hospital if he was struggling to breathe, the attorneys said.

The professor has repeatedly raised concerns about Ice continuing to bring in new detainees into the close quarters of the facility, mixing them with those already jailed. Asgari said he got a bad fever after Ice recently brought a new group to his pod.

Since the pandemic hit, he has tried to “self-deport” to Iran or get approval to stay with his family in the US but has been denied. Now, even if released, he would probably be unable to get on an immediate flight due to his diagnosis.

“This mass [detention] under this outbreak of a nasty virus is absolutely wrong,” Asgari said on Tuesday after learning of his test results. “What more proof do they need?”

Asgari said he was unable to shower while in isolation and was given a bowl of water he could use to wash his head. He said he had also pleaded for fresh fruit, which he has not had for a month.

Sharif University of Technology Professor Sirous Asgari was arrested in the United States in mid-2017. Back then, the FBI alleged the scientist had shared information about a project he had conducted on a sabbatical in the US five years before with his students.

US legal authorities then charged him with withholding information in the process of visa application, circumventing the sanctions, and transferring technology to Iran.

MNA/PR

News Code 158153

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