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'Zombie' Angelina Jolie lookalike 'catches coronavirus in jail'

Mirror logo Mirror 17/04/2020 Chris Kitching

A "zombie" Angelina Jolie lookalike has caught coronavirus in a notorious jail in Iran, a human rights group says.

Fatemeh Khishvand, who became an Instagram star due to her alleged transformation, is said to be on a ventilator and fighting for her life at Sina Hospital in Tehran.

The 18-year-old was detained in October last year amid a crackdown on Instagram celebrities, and faces charges including "corruption on earth", "encouraging youth to engage in lunacy", "insulting the sacred” and “acquiring illicit income”, said activists calling for her release.

a person posing for the camera: Ms Khishvand's lawyers had begged a judge to release her on bail © Internet Unknown Ms Khishvand's lawyers had begged a judge to release her on bail

Lawyers for Ms Khishvand, known on Instagram as Sahar Tabar, had begged a judge to free her due to Iran's coronavirus outbreak - the worst in the Middle East - but she was refused bail even though other prisoners have been released following similar concerns.

Related slideshow: Coronavirus outbreak (Provided by Photo Services)

Lawyer Payam Derafshan told the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI): “We find it unacceptable that this young woman has now caught the coronavirus in these circumstances while her detention order has been extended during all this time in jail."

Ms Khishvand faces years in prison "for engaging in peaceful freedom of expression on her personal Instagram account", the CHRI added.

Iran has suffered one of the worst outbreaks with almost 78,000 cases and 5,000 deaths reported by Tehran and the country has been accused of grossly under reporting cases and deaths.

A parliamentary report said the actual number might be almost twice as many and warned that up to 75 per cent of the Iranian population could test positive for Coovid-19 if isolation measures are not implemented.

In a worst-case scenario, as many as 30,000 could die if just 10 per cent of containment measures are in place, the report added.

Ms Khishvand became an Instagram star in 2017 when she posted photos of her transformation.

She claimed she had undergone 50 surgeries to look like Oscar-winning actress Ms Jolie, 44.

But Instagram users dubbed her a "zombie" due to her hollow cheeks, upturned nose and gaunt appearance.

But she later admitted she had achieved the look through the use of make-up and digital editing, and shared photos of her actual appearance.

Her lawyer, Mr Derafshan, said Judge Mohammad Moghiseh repeatedly denied to release her on bail as the coronavirus outbreak worsened, and the judge is now "unreachable".

Mr Derafshan added: “It’s not the prison director’s fault that she’s behind bars. The responsibility rests with Mr Moghiseh.”

Jail officials denied that she had caught the disease.

But Mr Derafshan said: “It seems like it has become a habit for the authorities to deny everything.

“It makes no sense to deny this.

"The prison director should acknowledge the infection and admit she has been hospitalised.”

He has called on Tehran to release Ms Khishvand and other prisoners who were detained on allegations of committing non-violent crimes.

He added: “Many women in Shahr-e Rey Prison have contacted my colleague and me about the terrible situation inside the prison and the fear that exists among the inmates [due to the coronavirus].

“We want the authorities to issue a general order to allow these prisoners to be temporarily released.

"In the absence of judges who are sick or not coming to work, this is the only solution.”

The Iran Human Rights Monitor has described Shahre-rey, the prison where Ms Khishvand was detained, as "the most dangerous and worst prison for women" in the country "due to its inhumane medical and psychological conditions".

It said the prison, also known as Qarchak, is located on a former industrial chicken farm in a desert east of Tehran, and falls far below the UN's rules for the treatment of prisoners.

Inmates have complained of disgusting conditions such as contagious diseases, urine-stained floors, insufficient and filthy toilets, contaminated food, foul odours and a lack of ventilation.

It can hold about 2,000 prisoners.

Last month, Iran temporarily released 85,000 prisoners as it struggled to contain the new strain of coronavirus.

British-Iranian mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, was among them.

a woman standing in front of a curtain: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released for two weeks © Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Ge Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released for two weeks

Her leave from Evin prison in Tehran was extended to Saturday as the Iranian Prosecutor General considers her plea for clemency.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose five-year-old daughter Gabriella has returned to London to be with dad Richard Ratcliffe, has been staying at her parents' home in Iran'scapital.

She was ordered to wear an ankle tag and cannot go far from her parents' home.

In its most recent update, the Free Nazanin campaign said there was still no update on her appeal clemency.

Her father was told to check in again on Saturday to find out whether her furlough would be extended again.

One of her former cellmates was on a list of approved clemencies earlier this month.

Iran, meanwhile, paraded disinfection vehicles, mobile hospitals and other medical equipment as it marked its national Army Day on Friday to underscore the military's role in battling the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the country hard.

The small "Defenders of the Homeland, Helpers of Health" parade, held at a training centre before a group of commanders in face masks, was a far cry from the typical Army Day parades, which normally feature marching infantry, missiles, submarines and armoured vehicles, with warplanes flying overhead.

In a message disseminated by state media, President Hassan Rouhani said: "Due to health and social protocols, it is not possible to hold a parade of soldiers.

"The enemy now is hidden and doctors and nurses are at the frontlines of the battlefield.

Army chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi thanked the more than 11,000 military medical staff who are fighting the coronavirus.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has warned that the infection could spread further in autumn and called on people to stay home.

On social media, Iranians posted pictures of busy streets, packed branches of banks and crowded buses in Tehran and other cities.

A report by the Iranian parliament’s research centre suggested that the coronavirus tolls might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry.

“The assessment is that the actual mortality which has not been accounted for is 0.8 times the official figures. The number of infected cases could be eight to 10 times the official figures,” the report said.

The report said that Iran’s official coronavirus figures were only based on the number of deaths in hospitals and those who had already tested positive for the coronavirus.

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