Iranian scientist contracts coronavirus in U.S. jail

April 29, 2020 - 18:12

TEHRAN — An Iranian scientist imprisoned in the United States has contracted the novel coronavirus, according to his family and attorneys.

Dr. Sirous Asgari, who has been pleading for weeks to be released from a U.S. immigration jail due to health problems, is in an isolation cell inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail in Louisiana.

Asgari’s 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 U.S. sanctions trial last year, but ICE has refused to release him or allow him to return to Iran. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently called for his release, as have some U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups.

Asgari is confined to a small room at the Winn correctional center in Louisiana, a state hard hit by the coronavirus.

While ICE informed the attorneys that his test was positive, 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,” he 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.

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said there were two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Winn but declined to answer specific questions about Asgari.


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