'Zombie' Angelina Jolie lookalike on ventilator, fighting for her life after contracting coronavirus in jail

The 18-year-old, who became famous on Instagram for her bizarre selfies, was detained in October last year as part of a crackdown on the country's social media celebrities


                            'Zombie' Angelina Jolie lookalike on ventilator, fighting for her life after contracting coronavirus in jail
(Instagram)

A human rights group has claimed that the Iranian social media sensation who became famous as a "zombie" Angelina Jolie lookalike has caught COVID-19 in one of the most dangerous prisons in the country.

According to a report by the Daily Mirror, Fatemeh Khishvand is on a ventilator and fighting for her life at Sina Hospital in Tehran.

The 18-year-old, who became famous on Instagram for her bizarre selfies, was detained in October last year as part of a crackdown on the country's social media celebrities. Activists calling for her release said she faces charges including "corruption on earth", "encouraging youth to engage in lunacy", "insulting the sacred” and “acquiring illicit income."

Lawyers representing Khishvand, who goes by the name Sahar Tabar on Instagram, had urged a judge to release her due to the outbreak in Iran - the worst hit nation in the Middle East. However, she was refused bail despite other prisoners securing their release citing similar concerns.

“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," lawyer Payam Derafshan told the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

According to the CHRI, Khishvand is facing years in prison "for engaging in peaceful freedom of expression on her personal Instagram account."

Iran, which has been accused of grossly under-reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths, has suffered one of the worst outbreaks with almost 80,000 cases and close to 5,000 deaths as of Friday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

That said, the actual number may be twice as many, according to an Iranian parliamentary report, which predicts as many as 30,000 deaths may occur if strict quarantine measures aren't taken.

Khishvand initially claimed to have undergone at least 50 surgeries to look like Hollywood superstar Jolie, 44, before she became an Instagram sensation in 2017.

However, her hollow cheeks, upturned nose, and outlandish appearance caused her to be dubbed as a "zombie" version of the actress. But the social media star later admitted her looks were created using makeup and digital editing.

Derafshan said Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, who was presiding over the case, repeatedly denied her bail despite worsening conditions in the prison.  “It’s not the prison director’s fault that she’s behind bars," Derafshan added. "The responsibility rests with Mr Moghiseh.”

However, Moghiseh is now "unreachable" and prison officials have denied that Khishvand has caught the illness.

According to Derafshan, it has "become a habit for the authorities to deny everything."

“It makes no sense to deny this," he said. "The prison director should acknowledge the infection and admit she has been hospitalised.”

The lawyer has now called on Tehran to release prisoners who were being held on allegations of committing non-violent crimes, such as Khishvand. “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 explained.“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," Derafshan added.

Shahre-rey, the prison where Khishvand was held, is "the most dangerous and worst prison for women" in the country "due to its inhumane medical and psychological conditions," according to the Iran Human Rights Monitor.

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