Iran’s unsanitary and overcrowded prisons were a vector for infections long before the Covid-19 outbreak, so everybody could plainly see that they were going to become disease epicenters through 2020 and likely 2021. However, the authorities did not take the needed precautions to protect prisoners and this resulted in more deaths.
They could have released non-violent prisoners, provided cleaning supplies (i.e., soap and bleach), medical equipment and supplies, and even increased the ability to spend time outside.
They could have ensured clean water for drinking and bathing, as well as safe and adequate food. None of this happened, even though international human rights institutions repeatedly urged Tehran to release political prisoners and protect those in their care.
“The Iranian authorities must stop denying the health crisis in Iran’s prisons and take urgent steps to protect prisoners’ health and lives,” Amnesty International said in July.
In fact, the government only increased the number of people detained, especially political prisoners, which shows that they took advantage of the pandemic to kill their opponents. Although, given the government’s secrecy, accurate statistics are impossible to find.
Let’s look at what happened in the prisons.
In Evin Prison, the majority of prisoners in wards 4, 7, and 8 got coronavirus, but the prison dispensary only gave them tranquilizers before sending them back, saying they wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the clinic even if they tested positive. This led to more infections.
Great Tehran Penitentiary
The dispensary lacked essential medical resources and nurses and doctors were often absent. The clinic was also contaminated, with infectious waste left for days, something which caused a protest.
In November, several political prisoners were denied medical treatment for coronavirus symptoms.
In July, three women died from suicide, one of them – Monireh Bahrami – because she had coronavirus and feared the symptoms, for which she was unlikely to receive treatment.
Coronavirus spread through the prison, but inmates were denied suitable medical treatment or transfer to an outside hospital. The government tried to cover it up, but the news got out.
One inmate said: “The quarantine method in this prison is just a formality. New arrivals are supposed to be quarantined for 14 days but they are discharged to the wards before the end of this period. Some inmates are brought to the ward right after arrest and do not go through the quarantine… The air we breathe in this closed area is unhealthy. There are too many prisoners and the prison is overcrowded.”
Central Prison of Urmia
This prison has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates, with not one doctor to visit the sick and only one nurse who was unable to see every patient, especially those more seriously ill.
The inmates are denied medical treatment for anything more serious than a headache, with sick prisoners merely quarantined until they start to feel better.
An informed source reported in November that there were several coronavirus deaths here daily, but they are listed as “natural death” to prevent the truth from leaking and no COVID tests are done here.
In Sepidar Prison, sanitary conditions are so bad that the toilets don’t flush, cells are filled with insects, and meals are barely edible.
“There is no doctor or nurse in the center for women’s health on most days of the week. The number of suicide attempts among female prisoners is seriously on the rise. The women who attempt to take their own lives hope to be transferred to the medical center so that they could spend several days in a place with better conditions or eventually die,” said one former inmate.