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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

Secondary Trauma by Cklara Moradian

Secondary Trauma

by Cklara Moradian

Cklara Moradian_2018

Secondary Trauma

Kurdish babies born in refugee camps are given names like Sangar (barricade), Awara (displaced), Revin (escape), Zindan (prisoner), Ranjbar (someone who suffers), Firmesk (tears), Bezar (spiteful), Xabat (fight), Tola (revenge), Hawar (wailing) Rizgar (rescued), Snoor (border), Lana (home).

They are victims of geography, survivors of a map.

They grow to sow their lips in protest and they carve symbols into their skin, coordinates of their birthplace as if to say “when you find me, send me home.”

Mothers spend hours lulling their restless children to sleep, singing lullabies that tell of a journey filled with rage. They do not migrate through the process of abscission. They are plucked in violence, deported.

What pains are passed on in these names? What wisdom?

It’s called secondary trauma, as if the seconds it takes to cut the umbilical cord from my mother could insulate me from the torture inflicted on her bones by the state, by displacement, by despair.

As if the lines that separate me from you is drawn in red, or in yellow tape, marking a departure clear enough for me to really feel where you end and I begin. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

I didn’t have to be there to see my uncles hanged for speaking their mother tongue to taste the bitter end of my roots flicker as I try to speak my language, the fluency of which escapes me now.
I didn’t have to be there to know of what you went through during forced confessions, Father. I didn’t have to hear the wailing of my imprisoned kin to now be startled awake by their cries.

Visions of my ancestors forced from the mountains into the desert with blistering feet keep me awake. I walk barefoot on tiptoes as if my feet are blistered. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

What is secondary about this intergenerational heirloom, passed down to me without my consent? What massacres happened in this crossing from one continent to the other? What comes first? Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

They say I have not differentiated myself enough (not in my identity formation). The subtleties of my individuality have become murky in the passage of loss from one generation to the other.

I close my eyelids to find refuge but my memory is fact. It is in my DNA, in epigenetic shapeshifting. The past is present.
What is secondary about waking every day to the news of another genocide, another friend dead, another aunt, sister enslaved? Another exodus? What is secondary about ritual mourning? Every morning! When can we heal? When can we fully grieve when it is never-ending? Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

I once read that pain flows from one family member to the next until someone is ready to feel it. I feel it. I feel it in my flesh, in the marrow of my bones, in my gut. It is like pins right under my fingernails, accumulating in somatic bruises on my thighs. And it shows when I reach out to you and say “I bear witness.” Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

At night, I twist and turn into the fetal position, my belly sounding off my people’s history. I carry it in my posture, the way I am weight down by sorrows I have no names for. I hold it in my voice when it vibrates with fear. I am anchored to the agony of exile. It is all-consuming. It is water. It is in the heaviness of the air that does not fully fill my lungs. It is in the space where I sit with all that has been done to you, in all the places where your jawlines were broken by armed men in uniform Father, beaten to shatters until you could not eat for days.

I remember so you can go on forgetting because you need to forget. I remember so you can go on forgetting.

Every time I look in the mirror, the outline of your silhouette is reflecting back your pain. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

What is secondary about this pain? To me, it has been an offering. It has been a profound loss, wrapped in every conversation, gifted to me in passing. That “all things are lost” is imparted in disorganized attachment, in denial, melancholia, in the sense of betrayal, in bedtime stories of persecution.

My mother, pregnant and imprisoned at 18, was beaten black and blue until she miscarried. I grew up knowing I was not her first child. Grief has come in abundance. Safety was scarce. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

Where is the line between lived experience and being raised with the knowledge of all that has been lost? Tell me, what is loss?

In the journey of displacement, I have lost language, I have lost language (s). I have lost birth certificates, passports, a state. I have lost the promise of return to a land forever stolen from me. I have lost count of my losses. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

The coordinates of my birthplace is Latitude 36°14′ 47″N Longitude 46° 15′ 59″ E. I am another refugee child with a mispronounced name. When I die, send me home!

 

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Cklara Moradian, MSW

Cklara Moradian, MSW

Cklara Moradian, MSW; is a diaspora Kurd, a former refugee from Eastern Kurdistan/Iran, and a spoken word poet. Her work is deeply steeped in her life experiences as a survivor.
She uses poetry and creative non-fiction as a response to the current and past atrocities/genocide her community has endured. Her work attempts to bear witness, tell stories of love and survivorship in the face of hardship and pain
Cklara is also a published spoken word poet who has performed at national and international human rights conferences, such as Amnesty International’s annual gathering, UNWomen events, university campuses, such as Cal State LA, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, CalArts, and UCLA, as well as at national and international political rallies and literary events.
Cklara is a Social Worker, who is helping to implement the youth-centered strength-based interventions in clinical and policy/research arenas. Cklara’s work is rooted in anti-oppressive liberatory theory and practice. She hopes to continue to serve multiply-marginalized communities, center disenfranchised voices, and elevate the strengths and resiliency of people who have and continue to deal with personal and intergenerational trauma. Her journey of healing from mental and physical illness informs her work with diaspora communities. Prior to Social Work, for over ten years, Cklara was involved in social justice advocacy.

Iran: Reveal whereabouts of four Kurdish men

amnesty-internationalReveal whereabouts of four Kurdish men 

UA: 171/17 Index: MDE 13/6734/2017 Iran        Date: 13 July 2017 

Four men from Iran’s Kurdish minority have been subjected to enforced disappearance since their arrests on 23 and 24 June. The authorities have refused to provide any information to their families about their fate or whereabouts. The men, who are all related, are at risk of extrajudicial execution, torture, and other human rights violations.

Ramin Hosseinpanahi

Ramin Hossein Panahi, a member of the Komala armed opposition group, was arrested on 23 June after taking part in armed clashes with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the city of Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, northwest Iran. Amnesty International understands that Ramin Hossein Panahi was injured during the clashes. His family has not been informed of his fate or whereabouts but they learned through a local non-official source that, following his arrest, he was initially taken to a hospital for about an hour and then moved to an undisclosed location.

His family is concerned that he will be denied critical medical care for his injuries.

The Iranian authorities often deny prisoners access to adequate medical care, sometimes as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate and punish them, or to extract forced “confessions”.  

Hours after Ramin Hossein Panahi’s arrest, the Revolutionary Guards stormed his parents’ house in the village of Qeruchay, near Sanandaj, and arrested his brother, Afshin Hossein Panahi

They raided the house again on 24 June and arrested three other members of his family: Ahmad Hossein Panahi (brother-in-law); Zobeyr Hossein Panahi(distant relative); and Anvar Hossein Panahi (cousin), who has since been released. Information received by Amnesty International suggests that none of these men had any involvement in the armed clashes.

Since their arrest, the authorities have refused to provide any information to their families about the fate or whereabouts of the three men still detained.

On 10 July, the mother of Ramin Hossein Panahi visited the Ministry of Intelligence office in Sanandaj, where officials said that the Revolutionary Guards were responsible for his case and therefore his arrest and that the Ministry of Intelligence had nothing to do with him. However, the Revolutionary Guards had previously told the family that they had transferred him to the detention of the Ministry of Intelligence so he was no longer their responsibility. The four men still in detention are victims of enforced disappearance, which is a crime under international law, and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Please write immediately in English, Persian or your own language calling on the Iranian authorities to: 


– Immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of Ramin Hossein Panahi, Afshin Hossein Panahi, Ahmad Hossein Panahi, and Zobeyr Hossein Panahi;
– Release Afshin Hossein Panahi, Ahmad Hossein Panahi, and Zobeyr Hossein Panahi if they have been detained solely because of their family connection with Ramin Hossein Panahi;
–  Ensure that all four men are provided with any medical care they may require and are protected from torture and other ill-treatment;
– Ensure that Ramin Hossein Panahi is provided with immediate access to medical care and to an independent lawyer of his choosing and promptly brought before a judge.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 24 AUGUST 2017 TO: 

Justice Department of Kurdistan Province 
Imam Shafe’i Square
Shahid Shebli Boulevard
Sanandaj
PO Box: 6614786964
Kurdistan Province
Iran

Head of the Judiciary 
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi
Above Pasteur Intersection
Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Iran

And copies to


Advisor to the President for Ethnic and Religious Minorities’ Affairs 

Ali Younesi
Office of the Presidency
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Iran

Also, send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please insert local diplomatic addresses below: 


Name                        

Address 1

Address 2

Address 3

Fax: Fax number

Email: Email address

Salutation: Salutation

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

 

Additional Information

The men’s families have reported making strenuous efforts to locate them by visiting various government offices in Sanandaj and Qorveh, and the village of Dehgolan, all in Kurdistan province, but said that officials refused to disclose their fate or whereabouts. Instead, officials have directed threats and insults at them, describing their loved ones as “terrorists”.

Amnesty International understands that the arrests of Ramin Hossein Panahi, Afshin Hossein Panahi, Anvar Hossein Panahi, Ahmad Hossein Panahi, and Zobeyr Hossein Panahi were carried out in a violent manner. According to accounts from Ramin Hossein Panahi’s family, armed Revolutionary Guards wearing black masks broke down the front door of their family house on 24 June and beat the men, as well as Ramin Hossein Panahi’s sister and elderly father. They also warned them against holding gatherings or giving media interviews.

In addition to Ramin Hossein Panahi, three other men affiliated with the armed Kurdish opposition group Komala were involved in the exchange of gunfire on 23 June 2017. They included Sabah Hossein Panahi, Hamed Seyf Panahi and Behzad Nouri. Ramin Hossein Panahi was injured and subsequently arrested while the latter three were shot dead. The exchange of gunfire apparently started at a Revolutionary Guards checkpoint after the men were identified while traveling in a car and did not heed a call to stop. The authorities have refused to return the dead bodies of the three men to their families for burials and warned the families against holding memorial gatherings. Komala has claimed that six members of the Revolutionary Guards were also killed during the clashes but the Revolutionary Guards did not acknowledge any casualties in the official statement they issued on 23 June. Komala is an armed Kurdish opposition group which has been engaged in armed activities against the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1980s.

Kurds are one of Iran’s disadvantaged ethnic minorities and face entrenched discrimination that curtails their access to employment, adequate housing and the exercise of their cultural, economic, civil and political rights. Continued economic neglect of provinces populated by Kurds, which include Kurdistan, Kermanshah and parts of West Azerbaijan, have further entrenched poverty and marginalization. Politically, Iran’s Kurdish minority have criticized the centralization of political life in Iran and the absence of any measures to introduce any form of minority self-government.

International law absolutely prohibits enforced disappearances and specifies that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as justification. Enforced disappearances are particularly cruel human rights violations. Individuals are cut off from the outside world, left knowing that their loved ones have no idea where they are or whether they are dead or alive. They are placed outside of the protection of the law and denied their right to legal representation or a fair trial. Treaty bodies, human rights courts and other human rights bodies have repeatedly found that enforced disappearances also violate the right to liberty and security of the person, the right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, the right to remedy, and the right to life. An enforced disappearance is also a “continuing crime”, which takes place so long as the disappeared person remains missing and information about his or her fate or whereabouts has not been provided by the state. Enforced disappearances also have a profound effect on the family members and friends of the disappeared individuals who are sometimes forced to anxiously wait years before they find out if their loved one is alive or dead.

Name: Ramin Hossein Panahi, Afshin Hossein Panahi, Ahmad Hossein Panahi, Zobeyr Hossein Panahi
Gender m/f: All male

UA: 171/17 Index: MDE 13/6734/2017 Issue Date: 13 July 2017

The Urgent Action is available on the Amnesty International website at the following link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/MDE13/6734/2017/en/
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