Amnesty International says it has obtained several leaked documents signed by officials at Iran’s Prisons Organization that reveal that the Iranian government has ignored repeated pleas by senior prison officials for additional resources to control the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded correctional facilities.
The letters raise an alarm over serious shortages of protective equipment, disinfectant products, and essential medical devices, the London-based rights group said in a statement released on July 31.
Amnesty said the letters "stand in stark contrast" to public statements by the adviser to the head of the judiciary, Asghar Jahangir, who has lauded Iran's "exemplary" initiatives to protect prisoners from the pandemic.
"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," Amnesty warned.
Iran has been struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic since February when the first cases were officially confirmed. According to official figures, over 16,500 Iranians have died of COVID-19, while the number of infections has surpassed 300,000. Real numbers are believed to be much higher.
In recent weeks, Iran has reported a surge in COVID-19 fatalities and infections.
The head of the health-care office of the Prisons Organization first submitted a letter to Iran’s Ministry of Health on February 29. Four follow-up letters were submitted in March, May, June, and early in July, and these have been seen by Amnesty International.
"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," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The rights group said it had "received distressing reports of prisoners displaying COVID-19 symptoms being neglected for days, even when they have preexisting heart and lung problems, diabetes, or asthma."
Earlier this month, imprisoned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi said she and her cellmates in prison in Zajan, some 330 kilometers west of the capital, Tehran, have been suffering from symptoms similar to those of COVID-19.
In March, Iran’s judiciary announced that it had ordered the temporary release of tens of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in crowded jails.
In mid-July, the judiciary issued new guidelines to facilitate a second round of leaves.
However, Amnesty International says hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been excluded from these measures, including human rights defenders, environmentalists, and foreign and dual nationals.
“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,” Eltahawy said.
The rights group also called on Iran to ensure access to adequate food, water, health care, and hygiene for all prisoners.