Jailed Iranian Instagram star catches coronavirus in Iranian jail

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A human rights organization says that a jailed Iranian Instagram star — known for her transformation into a “zombie Angelina Jolie” — is currently on a ventilator after contracting the coronavirus in custody.

Lawyers for Fatemeh Khishvand, known on Instagram as “Sahar Tabar,” had asked for her to be released amid the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, but a judge refused to grant bail, according to the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

“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,” human rights lawyer Payam Derafshan told the organization on Wednesday.

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Khishvand, 22, was arrested in October amid a nationwide crackdown on Instagram celebrities. She faces a slew of charges including blasphemy, inciting violence and encouraging the corruption of young people, for expressing herself on her widely-followed Instagram account.

Instagram is the only social media app available in Iran, with Facebook and Twitter banned.

Khishvand shot to fame in 2017 after claiming that she’d had “50 surgeries” to look like her favorite Hollywood star — and posting selfies showing her hollow cheeks, inflated lips and cartoonish upturned nose.

The shocking, emaciated look was actually created with the help of makeup and digital editing. Last year, she shared images with her tens of thousands of followers showing what she actually looks like.

Judge Mohammad Moghiseh repeatedly denied to release her on bail as the coronavirus spread across the country — and is now nowhere to be found, Khishvand’s lawyer said.

Jail officials in Tehran denied that the Instagram star had caught the illness — a claim her lawyer scoffed at.

Volunteer women wearing face masks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus prepare fabric to sew bed sheets for hospitals, at a mosque in Tehran, Iran this month. A human rights organization says that a jailed Iranian Instagram star — known for her transformation into a “zombie Angelina Jolie” — is currently on a ventilator after contracting the coronavirus in custody. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Volunteer women wearing face masks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus prepare fabric to sew bed sheets for hospitals, at a mosque in Tehran, Iran this month. A human rights organization says that a jailed Iranian Instagram star — known for her transformation into a “zombie Angelina Jolie” — is currently on a ventilator after contracting the coronavirus in custody. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

“It seems like it has become a habit for the authorities to deny everything,” Derafshan told CHRI.

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“It makes no sense to deny this. The prison director should acknowledge the infection and admit she has been hospitalized.”

The attorney called on authorities to release Khishvand and other inmates detained on non-violent charges amid the outbreak.

“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],” he said.

“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.”

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There have been at least 77,995 reported cases of the virus in Iran, with 4,869 deaths.