March 27 (UPI) -- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif demanded Friday that the United States release an Iranian scientist he says is being unlawfully detained.
Zarif was responding to a story in The Guardian that said U.S. officials have been detaining Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari, who was detained last year and charged with violating U.S. sanctions. The report said prison officials have denied inmates masks and hand sanitizers as safeguards amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Asgari, who attended school in the United States, was acquitted at trial last year on the charges. He's being held by immigration authorities in Louisiana.
"U.S. has taken several Iranian scientists hostage -- without charge or on spurious sanctions charges -- and not releasing them; even when its OWN courts reject the absurd charges," Zarif wrote on Twitter. "U.S. even refuses medical furlough -- amid [the outbreak] -- for innocent men jailed in horrific facilities. Release our men."
"This back-and-forth, massive movement of detainees under this coronavirus is absolutely dangerous," Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor, told ProPublica. "They are endangering the lives of all these people, including myself, and nobody cares."
Edward Bryan, Asgari's attorney, said he was told the scientist is expected to be deported "no later than early April."