The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has expressed grave concern over human rights defenders, lawyers and political prisoners detained in Iranian prisons and has now urged the relevant authorities to release them because of the coronavirus pandemic that is tearing through Iran and its prisons.
Iran is the worst affected Middle East country when it comes to coronavirus, with over 122,000 deaths as of writing, but this is even worse when it comes to the prisons because they are horrendously overcrowded and unsanitary, even at the best of times.
Now, prisons are seeing water shortages, a lack of cleaning products for the people or their surroundings, almost no personal protective equipment or coronavirus tests, dire medical care, and quarantine wards that are just separated by cell bars rather than walls.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Iranian judiciary announced that it would release 120,000 inmates – something that has largely been abandoned – but this did not include those sentenced for “national security” offenses, which political prisoners are. Essentially, arbitrarily detained protesters and dissidents are risking death in prison.
Bachelet said: “Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty. People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk.”
She cited the case of human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh—given 30 years in prison for representing female protesters—who has protested her continued imprisonment with two hunger strikes. The second ended in September due to her deteriorating health and a heart condition that requires specialized treatment.
Bachelet said: “I am very concerned that Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life is at risk. Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice. Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”
She urged the regime to unconditionally release all human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters, and anyone detained for exercising their rights.