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Leaked official letters reveal state denial of COVID-19 crisis in Iran’s prisons

July 31st, 2020

Dear friends,

Please find attached and copied below a press release about COVID-19 in Iran’s prisons. In a series of leaked letters, exclusively seen by Amnesty International, Iranian prison authorities made repeated urgent requests to the Ministry of Health for resources to tackle COVID-19. The letters have been ignored. This is especially damning given that the head of the organization which signed the letters has publicly called Iran’s measures to tackle COVID-19 in prisons “exemplary”.  The press release is available at the following link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/iran-leaked-letters-reveal-state-denial-of-covid19-crisis-in-prisons/  

Best wishes

Iran team

Amnesty International

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE 

Iran: Leaked official letters reveal state denial of COVID-19 crisis in prisons

 Leaked official documents newly obtained by Amnesty International reveal that the Iranian government has ignored repeated pleas by senior officials responsible for managing Iran’s prisons for additional resources to control the spread of COVID-19 and treat infected prisoners.

The organization reviewed copies of four letters signed by officials at Iran’s Prisons Organization, which operates under the supervision of the judiciary, to the Ministry of Health, raising the alarm over serious shortages of protective equipment, disinfectant products, and essential medical devices. The Ministry of Health failed to respond, and Iran’s prisons remain catastrophically unequipped for outbreaks. The details in the letters stand in stark contrast to public statements by the former head of the Prisons Organization and current advisor to the head of the judiciary, Asghar Jahangir, who has lauded Iran’s “exemplary” initiatives to protect prisoners from the pandemic, and denied reports of increasing infection rates and COVID-19-related deaths inside prisons resulting from overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and lack of access to health care.

  “These official letters provide damning evidence of the government’s appalling failure to protect prisoners. Requests for urgently needed disinfectant products, protective equipment and medical devices have been ignored for months. This is particularly alarming as the letters also note the presence of a highly vulnerable population in Iran’s prisons” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of basic sanitation and medical equipment, and deliberate neglect of prisoners’ health problems, are making Iranian prisons a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19. The Iranian authorities must stop denying the health crisis in Iran’s prisons and take urgent steps to protect prisoners’ health and lives.” 

The head of the health care office of the Prisons Organization first submitted a letter to Iran’s Ministry of Health on 29 February 2020. Four follow-up letters were submitted on 25 March 2020, 12 May 2020, 14 June 2020, and 5 July 2020 and these have been seen by Amnesty International. The letter dated 25 March 2020 requests disinfectant products and protective equipment to last three months, including “5,400,000 masks, 10,000 N95 masks, 3,600,000 latex gloves, 10,000,000 plastic gloves, 450,000 litres of hand sanitizers and 1,000,000 litres of surface disinfectant, 5,000 face shields, 5,000 protective goggles, 5,000 protective gowns, 300 air ventilation systems and 250 de-infestation machines”.

The letter also highlights the urgent need for funding to purchase hundreds of essential medical devices including blood pressure and blood glucose monitors, thermometers, pulse oximeters, stethoscopes and defibrillators.  While the letter does not clarify how many prisons these items and devices are intended for, the figures raise concerns about very serious shortages in prisons across the country. The letter warns that “security hazards” and “irreparable harm” will result from inaction, particularly considering that Iran’s prisons are “populated with individuals who have pre-existing medical problems, use drugs, and/or suffer from malnutrition, anaemia, and infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis”.

It also notes that Iran’s prisons house “older [people], pregnant women, nursing mothers and their infants who suffer from a weak immune system due to their low socio-economic status and hygiene”.  Subsequent letters repeat these requests and note the absence of any government response. In the latest letter obtained by Amnesty International, dated 5 July 2020, a senior official at the Prisons Organization states that they had received no response from the Ministry of Health and asks for an urgent meeting. 

State denial 

On 6 April 2020, Asghar Jahangir said in a media interview that Iran must be recognized internationally for its efforts to protect prisoners during the COVID-19 outbreak, and claimed that prisoners enjoy “better standards of health care and sanitation than they would in society”. He also claimed that medical teams had been stationed in prisons across the country to monitor the health of prisoners daily, and that prisoners who show symptoms are immediately tested and transferred to hospitals outside the prison if the results are positive. As a result, he claimed that there has not even been a single case of COVID-19 related death in prisons. However, the documents obtained by Amnesty International, together with the information received from prisoners and their families and independent human rights defenders, paint a far grimmer picture.  Amnesty International has received distressing reports of prisoners displaying COVID-19 symptoms being neglected for days, even when they have pre-existing heart and lung problems, diabetes or asthma. When their conditions worsen, many are merely quarantined in a separate section in the prison or placed in solitary confinement, without access to adequate health care. 

At least one prisoner who tested positive, Zeynab Jalalian, has been forcibly disappeared since 25 June 2020; she had been on hunger strike from six days earlier over the authorities’ refusal to transfer her to a medical centre outside Shahr-e Rey prison (also known as Gharchak prison) in Tehran province for COVID-19 related treatment. Sometimes, as seen most recently in the case of ailing human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Narges Mohammadi, authorities have refused to inform prisoners of the results of their COVID-19 tests. Independent human rights groups with contacts inside prisons have reported more than 20 cases of suspected COVID-19 related deaths in prisons including from Ghezel Hesar prison (2) in Alborz province; Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary (6) and Shahr-e Rey prison (2) in Tehran Province; Urumieh prison (8) in West Azerbaijan province; Kamyaran (1) and Saqez (1) prisons in Kurdistan province; and Sepidar prison (1) in Khuzestan province.   A request by WHO officials to visit Evin prison in Tehran was rejected in March 2020, according to media reports

Cruel and inhumane conditions 

The Iranian authorities announced that between late February and late May 2020, they had temporarily released around 128,000 prisoners on furlough and pardoned another 10,000 in response to the outbreak. On 15 July 2020, as COVID-19 cases spiked again, the spokesperson of the judiciary announced that the head of the judiciary had issued new guidelines to facilitate a second round of leaves.   However, hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been excluded from these welcome measures, including human rights defenders, foreign and dual nationals, environmentalists, individuals detained due to their religious beliefs and people arbitrarily detained in connection with the November 2019 protests. The authorities have also continued to detain unjustly convicted protesters, dissidents, minority rights activists and human rights defenders to begin serving prison sentences. Some prisoners of conscience who had been granted leave in March 2020 have also been called back to prison. According to recent official statements, as of 13 June 2020, Iran’s prison population was around 211,000, two and half times more than the officially declared capacity of 85,000. In July of last year, Iran’s prison population was 240,000, according to officials. Other widely documented concerns in Iran’s prisons include lack of proper ventilation and air conditioning facilities, filthy and insufficient bathroom facilities, lack of adequate facilities and products for prisoners to wash their dishes and clothes and maintain personal hygiene, low water pressure in the showers, widespread insect infestations, insufficient potable water and low quality food, and a severe shortage of beds, meaning many prisoners have to sleep on the floor.  Since the outbreak of the virus, in some prisons, prisoners have also complained about the authorities’ improper use of bleach to disinfect surfaces, exacerbating poor air quality and leading to severe coughs, chest tightness and asthma attacks. Amnesty International has previously documented the Iranian authorities’ deliberate denial of health care to prisoners of conscience and others held in relation to politically-motivated cases, putting their lives and health at grave risk. In some cases, the denial of health care was intended to punish, intimidate or humiliate prisoners or obtain forced “confessions”. “We once again call on Iranian authorities to urgently address overcrowding in prisons, including by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights,” said Diana Eltahawy. “They must also consider releasing others, especially children, pre-trial detainees, and those who may be more at risk from the virus. Prisoners must have equal access to COVID-19 prevention, testing and treatment.” Amnesty International also calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure access to adequate food, water, health care, hygiene and bedding for all prisoners. They should end the use of torture and other ill-treatment, treat detainees with dignity and humanity, and allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of prisons in line with international standards. 

Background 

Since March 2020, the appalling conditions in Iran’s prisons and concerns over the spread of the coronavirus have led to hunger strikes, protests, rioting and escape attempts in prisons across the country. The authorities have generally responded to the protests in prisons violently, using excessive or unnecessary force, and in some casesfiring tear gas, metal pellets and live ammunition, resulting in deaths and injuries. 

For more information please contact press@amnesty.org

Kurdish-American solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Open letter: Kurdish-American solidarity with Black Lives Matter

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Photo by: cmc.edu

 

By: Yara Ismael

June 8th, 2020

Source: Rudaw.net

 

Father-of-two George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, the latest black American victim of police brutality in the United States.

A grocery store clerk called police when the 46-year-old allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for goods. Four officers arrived at the scene, one of whom placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, suffocating the 46-year-old to death.

Video footage documenting his death  quickly spread across the internet, prompting mass protests and renewed reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement and racism against the Black community in the US and beyond.

The following letter has been written by several Kurdish-American organizations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kurdish-American Organizations Stand in Solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement 

George-Floyd

This is a picture of George Floyd, who died May 25th, 2020 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for at least seven minutes. 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Floyd family/Wikimedia.org

On behalf of eleven Kurdish-American organizations, we express our outrage and deep grief as our communities grapple with the violent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. Tragically, these deaths are not isolated incidents. They are examples of how racism divides and inflicts suffering on our society, disproportionately affecting people of color. We are completely intolerant of any injustice in our nation.

In the past week, Black Lives Matter protests erupted in all 50 states. While we acknowledge that all non-black people cannot even fathom what Black Americans endure, Kurds fully support the peaceful demands of the BLM Movement. Protestors’ righteous indignation stems from excruciating pain caused not only by Mr. Floyd’s killing, but  by 400 years of structural racism. They have made immense contributions to this country since its founding, and yet they suffer from wealth and education disparities, the highest global incarceration rates, and police brutality. Racism against them is not only normalized, but even rewarded in many arenas. We stand together against institutional and societal racism.

As the most prominent Civil Rights Movement leader, Martin Luther King, eloquently explained, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” White supremacy and racism plagues our entire world today. During the same week that Mr. Floyd was killed, Baris Cakan, a 20-year-old Kurd, was stabbed to death in Turkey for listening to Kurdish music. It is our duty as Kurds who have also suffered prolonged state oppression, to support the Black community through all meaningful responses which include donating, peacefully protesting, paying attention, spreading the word, and more. Most importantly, it is pivotal for us to strive to eradicate the bias and racism within our own Kurdish communities worldwide by educating ourselves and enlightening our conversations about racism and racial injustice.

Silence is complacency. Now is the time to stand together, listen, and take action.

In solidarity,

Kurdish Refugee Relief Foundation
Kurdish American Medical Association
Effendi Foundation
Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group
Kurdish American Youth Association
Kurdish Student Association at University of Massachusetts, Boston
California Kurdish Community Center
Nursi Islamic Center, Texas Kurdish Community
New England Kurdish Association
Kurdish Project
Kurdish Community of Southern California

With contributions by Dr. Heval Kelli 

Source: https://www.rudaw.net/english/world/060620201?fbclid=IwAR0LHMUP4sJswNq7clrU7RQf4F0RKVYSfgt3Gt7CqxocrllFyzA5npo1Lu4

 

Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group Support for Black Americans

Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group Support for Black Americans

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By: Dr. Amir Sharifi

06/07/2020

Source: ekurd.net

Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group (KHRAG) expresses its utmost outrage at the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman, who for 8 minutes and 46 seconds tortured him to death while ignoring his repeated pleas and cries of “ I can’t breathe.” The brutal murder was not an isolated example. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others are parts of a disturbing legacy and brutality of institutional racism, which is integral to the U.S and colonial history.

George-Floyd

This is a picture of George Floyd, who died May 25th, 2020 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for at least seven minutes. 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Floyd family/Wikimedia.org

The tragic event is an example of recurrent history in many racialized communities in the U.S and throughout the world. For Kurds, discrimination is an everyday reality as we are both deprived of civil, socio-cultural, and economic rights; we are often subjected to political oppression and exclusion as African Americans. The Floyd’s tragedy has offered the world an opportunity to see and find ways to eradicate the real roots of racism and lay the foundation for a new framework of fundamental human rights for ethnic and indigenous communities. No democracy is indeed possible without freedom from discrimination. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Kurdish Americans are participating in the anti-discrimination global movement through social media feeds, rallies, messages, tweets, posts, artwork, and vigils. We are actively connecting with African Americans. Like them we have experienced extrajudicial and public executions; during the same week that Floyd was murdered, a young man, Çakan was stabbed to death in a park for singing a song in Kurdish in Turkey. It was again during the same week that Turkish forces demolished the Celadet Ali Badirkhan Library as another reminder that reading and writing in Kurdish is still a cardinal political crime in Turkey. It was in the same week that the Security Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran publicly executed two Kurdish border kulbars (porters) not to mention the routine execution of religious and ethnic minorities in Iranian prisons.

Dr. Amir SharifiKurdish Americans support “Black Lives Matter” and stand for racial and ethnic equity; we uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and insist that it be applied to all racialized and ethnicized communities in the U.S and throughout the world. Only a local anti-discrimination campaign and a growing global peaceful protest such as the one we are witnessing these days can address and redress indignities, humiliations, and marginalization of oppressed peoples. While we mourn George Flyod’s tragic death, we all rise in solidarity to condemn and eradicate institutional violence and racism as a crime against humanity.

Dr. Amir Sharifi
Co-Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group

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