HRW calls on Iran to release wrongfully detained prisoners

Iran’s prison authorities should facilitate temporary release of all eligible prisoners and the unconditional release of people detained for peaceful dissent, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Human Rights watch said today.

HRW pointed out that: “The virus has spread across Iran and poses a heightened risk in closed institutions. To reduce the risk of further transmission and mortality, authorities should also support “social distancing” measures in the community and ensure that all remaining detainees have access to adequate medical care.”

“The threat of the coronavirus epidemic increases the risk to their health and safety for political prisoners, who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Judicial authorities should not waste any time in releasing scores of wrongfully detained prisoners who are still behind bars and granting temporary release to other eligible prisoners.”

Iran is experiencing one of the fastest outbreaks of coronavirus infections outside China, with several reported cases across the country of detainees showing symptoms. The Iranian judiciary news agency, Mizan, announced that the judiciary chief has ordered the temporary release of 70,000 prisoners for the upcoming Persian New Year (Nowruz), which begins on March 20, 2020. Yet dozens of human rights defenders and others sentenced on vaguely defined national security crimes remain in prison. Their families have said they are concerned about the health and safety of their loved ones in detention.

Human Rights Watch has received reports that prisoners have tested positive for coronavirus, including in Evin prison in Tehran and in the cities of Euromieh and Rasht. On February 27, in an open letter, families of 25 prisoners detained for their activism pleaded with judicial officials to release or at least grant temporary release to their loved ones amid the coronavirus outbreak and the lack of sufficient medical care in prisons.

HRW stressed that: “Under international law, prison authorities are obliged to ensure necessary hygiene to prevent disease transmission and essential medical care for all detainees. In cases in which prisoners are suspected of having contagious diseases, states are obligated to provide for their clinical isolation and appropriate treatment.”

“Controlling the coronavirus spread in Iran will require preventing transmission in Iran’s notoriously overcrowded prisons,” Page said. “The government should act immediately to release eligible prisoners and ensure that proper hygiene and care are provided for those who remain.