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Amnesty Says Iranian Officials Have Turned Prisons Into 'Waiting Rooms Of Death'

Rights watchdogs have long criticized conditions in Iran's notorious prison system. (file photo)

Amnesty International has accused Iranian prison officials of committing "shocking" violations by "deliberately" denying sick prisoners "lifesaving healthcare" and refusing to investigate and ensure accountability for unlawful deaths in custody.

The human rights group said in a report released on April 12 that Iranian authorities have refused to conduct any independent and transparent investigations into the deaths in custody of almost 100 people whose cases involved reports of medical care being denied. The watchdog said that authorities have also failed to ensure that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted and punished.

“The Iranian authorities’ chilling disregard for human life has effectively turned Iran’s prisons into a waiting room of death for ill prisoners, where treatable conditions tragically become fatal,” said Diana Eltahawy, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Deaths in custody resulting from the deliberate denial of healthcare amount to arbitrary deprivation of life, which is a serious human rights violation under international law. A prisoner’s death in custody also constitutes an extrajudicial execution, a crime under international law, if those responsible either intended to cause the death or knew with a sufficient degree of certainty that death would be the necessary consequence of their unlawful actions, yet persisted,” she added.

Amnesty said in the report that the 96 cases it reviewed were only "illustrative, rather than exhaustive," since the true number of deaths in custody is likely far higher as human rights violations in Iran often go unreported due to "well-founded fears of reprisals."

The report said that, of the 96 cases reviewed, 64 involved prisoners who died while still in prison, while 26 prisoners died during transfer or shortly after admission to hospital, following "deliberate delays" by prison medical staff and/or prison officials.

It added that officials often accuse prisoners of faking illness or exaggerating their symptoms.

Amnesty said that, given the situation, the UN Human Rights Council should set up an investigative and accountability mechanism to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes under international law and human rights violations committed in Iran to facilitate fair criminal proceedings.

“The shadow of death will continue to cast over Iran’s ailing prisoners until effective, thorough, transparent, impartial and independent investigations are conducted to determine the circumstances surrounding deaths in custody and the responsibility of those involved in the deaths,” Eltahawy said.