The Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release hundreds of prisoners of conscience amid grave fears over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran’s prisons. The authorities should take measures to protect the health of all prisoners and urgently consider releasing pre-trial detainees and those who may be at particular risk of severe illness or death.
Head of Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi
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c/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN
622 Third Ave., 34th floor
New York, NY 10017, USA
Dear Mr. Ebrahim Raisi,
I am writing about the distressing spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran’s prisons. While I am aware of measures announced by the Iranian authorities to release some prisoners in response to the outbreak, I am concerned that hundreds of prisoners of conscience remain jailed, including human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and others detained solely for peacefully expressing their rights to freedom of expression, association and/or assembly. They should not be in detention in the first place.
More generally, I am also concerned about the health of all prisoners in Iran. In several prisons across the country, prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, raising grave concerns for other prisoners held in the same wards. According to the World Health Organization, some groups of people appear to be at particular risk of severe illness or death, including older individuals and people with pre-existing medical conditions. Iran’s prison population includes such groups. Additionally, some prisoners have been systematically denied adequate medical care, which could leave them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus if they contracted it. Amnesty International has documented the denial of adequate medical care as a punitive measure against prisoners of conscience.
Many prisoners across the country have pleaded with officials to address overcrowded, unhygienic and unsanitary conditions in prisons that put them at greater risk of COVID-19 infections. There are also reports that some prisoners have not been provided with sufficient soap or other sanitary products. Many families have also raised concerns for the wellbeing of jailed relatives and believe that the Iranian authorities should be testing prisoners who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
I urge you to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders and those detained for peacefully taking part in the November 2019 and January 2020 protests. I also urge you to urgently consider releasing other prisoners – especially pre-trial detainees and those who may be more at risk from the virus – and take necessary measures to protect the health of all prisoners, including equal access to testing.