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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

Amnesty International – Iran – PRISONERS AT RISK OF COVID-19 INFECTION

Amnesty International – Iran – PRISONERS AT RISK OF COVID-19 INFECTION

Dear friends,

Please find attached and copied below an Urgent Action that Amnesty International issued today calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release hundreds of prisoners of conscience amid grave 2e0c4-amnesty-internationalfears 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 other prisoners – especially pre-trial detainees and those who may be at more risk from the virus – and take necessary measures to protect the health of all prisoners, including providing equal access to testing.

The Urgent Action is available on the Amnesty International website at the following link:https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/2038/2020/en/

Many thanks and best wishes,
Iran team

 URGENT ACTION

 PRISONERS AT RISK OF COVID-19 INFECTION
 
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.
 
TAKE ACTION: WRITE AN APPEAL IN YOUR OWN WORDS OR USE THIS MODEL LETTER
 
Head of Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi
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 systematically 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.
 
Yours sincerely,      


 
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
 

There are concerns about the spread of coronavirus inside Iran’s prisons and that the Iranian authorities have failed to sufficiently protect prison populations. The Human Rights Activists News Agency, based outside Iran, has reported that: in Shahr-e Rey prison (also known as Gharchak), in the city of Varamin, two prisoners have died from COVID-19 in solitary confinement in recent days after being denied medical care and admittance to hospital; in the same prison prior to this, despite some prisoners testing positive for coronavirus, prisoners were only checked for fevers and provided with a bleach-water solution to disinfect surfaces themselves, which, they say, emitted fumes that irritated their lungs; in Central Karaj prison, there have been new cases of coronavirus reported on a daily basis and other prisoners have gone on hunger strike in protest at the shortage of sanitary products and the lack of measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus inside the prison; in Urumieh prison, in early March 2020 over a hundred prisoners in one section of the prison went on hunger strike at the shortage of sanitary products inside the prison despite suspected cases of coronavirus among prisoners; and, in Tehran’s Evin prison, prisoners raised concerns that the women’s ward was disinfected after a guard tested positive for coronavirus, and that, prior to that, the ward had to share use of one disinfectant product between them. The Ahwaz Human Rights Organization also reported that two prisoners in Central Ahvaz prison had contracted coronavirus and that other prisoners in the same ward had not been tested. Several prisoners of conscience also went on hunger strike in Evin prison in protest at the authorities continued refusal to grant them prison leave.

Many of Iran’s prisons have detention conditions that fall far short of international standards, including with respect to overcrowding, poor ventilation, limited hot water during the winter season, inadequate food, insufficient beds and insect infestations. Seehttps://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/03/iran-new-evidence-of-appalling-treatment-of-women-human-rights-defenders-held-in-shahre-rey-prison/; and https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/5515/2017/en/ for more information. Such prison conditions are highly susceptible to the spread of infectious disease.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran became publicly known in February 2020, many prisoners’ families have been raising concerns for the wellbeing of those jailed and calling for the release of prisoners of conscience and those held on politically motivated charges. They have repeatedly voiced their fears that the lack of sanitary products and poor prison conditions put prisoners at greater risk. They have also called on Iran’s State Prison Organization, which is under the authority of the judiciary, to regularly disinfect prisons, provide masks and hand sanitizers to prisoners, quarantine those suspected of having the virus and grant prison leave to as many prisoners as possible. While Iran’s judiciary has made a number of announcements about how it intends to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including plans to release thousands of prisoners temporarily and upon payment of bail and to grant pardons to certain types of prisoners, hundreds of prisoners of conscience remain jailed (for more information).

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, prison populations are particularly exposed to infectious diseases like COVID-19 and conditions of detention can exacerbate the risks. These include the risk of higher transmission rates, especially in overcrowded prisons and when health systems are of poorer quality than in the community. Under international law, as reflected in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), prison authorities must ensure that all prisoners have prompt access to medical attention and health care. The provision of health care for prisoners is a state responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, including when it comes to testing, prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Where a prison service has its own hospital facilities, they must be adequately staffed and equipped to provide prisoners referred to them with appropriate treatment and care. Prisoners who require specialized treatment or surgery should be transferred to specialized institutions or to civilian hospitals.

 
PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: Persian, English
You can also write in your own language.
 
PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL: 7 May 2020
Please check with the Amnesty office in your country if you wish to send appeals after the deadline.
 
NAME AND PREFERRED PRONOUN: Group (them/they)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL; Iran: At least 23 children killed by security forces in November protests – new evidence

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL 
PRESS RELEASE 
Iran: At least 23 children killed by security forces in November protests – new evidence
Collage Child Victims - Reduced size

 

Dear friends,

Today, Amnesty International issued a briefing entitled ‘They shot our children’ – Killings amnesty-internationalof minors in Iran’s November 2019 protests which presents evidence uncovered by Amnesty International that at least 23 children were killed by Iranian security forces in the nationwide protests in November last year.

The children killed include 22 boys, aged between 12 and 17, and a girl reportedly aged between eight and 12. Twelve of the 23 deaths recorded by Amnesty International took place on 16 November, a further eight on 17 November, and three on 18 November. Details of the deaths are included in the new briefing.

Please find attached the briefing and its accompanying press release (in English and Persian). The briefing and press release are available at the following links: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/1894/2020/en/ [briefing] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/03/iran-at-least-23-children-killed-by-security-forces-in-november-protests-new-evidence/ [press release]

Many thanks and best wishes,
Iran team

  • AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL 
    PRESS RELEASE 
    4 March 2020 
     
    Iran: At least 23 children killed by security forces in November protests – new evidence
     
    An investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered evidence that at least 23 children were killed by Iranian security forces in the nationwide protests in November last year.
     
    At least 22 of the children were shot dead by Iranian security forces unlawfully firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters and bystanders, according to the findings.
     
    The children killed include 22 boys, aged between 12 and 17, and a girl reportedly aged between eight and 12. Details of their deaths are included in a new Amnesty International briefing, ‘They shot our children’ – Killings of minors in Iran’s November 2019 protests.
     
    “In recent months an increasingly gruesome picture has emerged of the extent to which Iranian security forces unlawfully used lethal force to crush last year’s nationwide protests. However, it is still devastating to learn that the number of children who fell victim to this brutality is so shockingly high,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
     
    “There must be independent and impartial investigations into these killings, and those suspected of ordering and carrying them out must be prosecuted in fair trials.”
     
    Amnesty International has gathered evidence from videos and photographs, as well as death and burial certificates, accounts from eyewitnesses and victims’ relatives, friends and acquaintances on the ground, and information gathered from human rights activists and journalists. 
     
    In 10 cases, Amnesty International learned from the description of injuries on the death or burial certificates it reviewed, or information from credible sources, that the deaths occurred as a result of gunshots to the head or torso – indicating that the security forces were shooting to kill.
     
    In two of the cases, burial certificates set out in detail the devastating impact on
    the children’s bodies. One cited injuries including bleeding, a crushed brain and a shattered skull. The other indicated that the cause of the death was extensive internal bleeding, and a pierced heart and lung. 
     
    In one child’s case, there are conflicting reports on the cause of death, with one referring to fatal head injuries sustained by beatings by security forces and another referring to the firing of metal pellets at the victim’s face from a close distance. 
     
    Twelve of the 23 deaths recorded by Amnesty International took place on 16 November, a further eight on 17 November, and three on 18 November. The protests started on 15 November.
     
    The 23 children are recorded as having been killed in 13 cities in six provinces across the country (Esfahan, Fars, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Tehran), reflecting the widespread nature of the bloody crackdown. 
     
    “The fact that the vast majority of the children’s deaths took place over just two days is further evidence that Iranian security forces went on a killing spree to quash dissent at any cost,” said Philip Luther.
     
    “As the Iranian authorities have refused to open independent, impartial and effective investigations, it is imperative that member states of the UN Human Rights Council mandate an inquiry into the killings of protesters and bystanders, including these children, in the November protests.” 
     
    On 25 February, Amnesty International wrote to Iran’s Minister of Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to provide him with the list of the names of the 23 children recorded as killed, along with their ages and places of death, and to seek the authorities’ comments on the circumstances of their death. As of 3 March, the organization had received no response.
     
    State cover-up and harassment
     
    Amnesty International spoke to relatives of some the children killed who described being subjected to harassment and intimidation, including surveillance and interrogations by intelligence and security officials. At least one family received veiled death threats against their surviving children and were warned that “something horrible” would also happen to them if they spoke out.
     
    This corresponds with a broader issue where families of those killed in protests are being intimidated by the state from talking openly about their deaths. Most have reported being forced to sign undertakings that they would not speak to the media, and observe restrictions on how they commemorate their loved ones in
    order to be able to receive their bodies. In many cases, security and intelligence officials have placed the families under surveillance, and attended their funeral and memorial ceremonies in order to ensure that the restrictions are observed. 
     
    Families of children killed also reported being forced to bury them quickly in the presence of security and intelligence officials, thereby preventing them from seeking an independent autopsy. Such conduct appears aimed at suppressing incriminating evidence. 
     
    In general, Amnesty International’s research has found that the families of those killed in protests have been consistently excluded from autopsies undertaken by the state forensic institute and denied access to information on the circumstances of their deaths, including details of the ammunition that killed them and the weapon that fired it.
     
    In some cases, officials washed and prepared the bodies of victims for burial without notifying their families and then handed them the bodies, wrapped in shrouds, just minutes before the scheduled burial. Amnesty International understands that in these cases, security and intelligence officials generally sought to prevent families from pulling back the shrouds to see the bodies of their loved ones. As a result, some families say they were not able to see the impact of injuries. 
     
    In other cases, authorities have also refused to hand over the belongings of the victims to their relatives, including their phones, raising suspicions that they worried these contained evidence of unlawful actions by the state. 
     
    “As if the loss of their loved ones was not cruel enough an experience to bear, families of children killed during the protests are facing a ruthless campaign of harassment to intimidate them from speaking out,” said Philip Luther. 
     
    “The authorities also seem to be desperate to prevent bereaved relatives finding out the full truth about the killings, and getting hold of evidence that would incriminate those responsible. This bears all the hallmarks of a state cover-up.” 
     
    Background 
     
    Protests erupted in Iran on 15 November 2019 following a sudden government announcement about a fuel price hike. According to credible reports compiled by Amnesty International, at least 304 people were killed and thousands injured between 15 and 18 November as authorities crushed the protests using lethal force. During and following the protests, the Iranian authorities arbitrarily detained thousands of detainees and subjected some to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. 
     
    ENDS
     
    Public Document 
    ****************************************
     
    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
     
    +44 207 413 5566 
     
    Out of hours contact details:
    +44 20 7413 5566 
     
    Twitter: @amnestypress
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