IRAN: Amid heightened risk of COVID-19 in detention facilities, all human rights defenders must be immediately released

13/08/2020
Statement
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Paris-Geneva – As COVID-19 continues to hit Iran, with a growing number of infections recently confirmed in places of detention, it is urgent to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders, the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) said today.

In light of the dire situation in detention facilities, where social distancing is virtually impossible and where sanitary conditions are extremely inadequate, exposing prisoners to the highly contagious COVID-19, prominent human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh published a letter on August 11, 2020, announcing that she would go on hunger strike until all political prisoners in the country were released. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer and a major figure in the fight for human rights in Iran, is currently serving a 38.5-year prison sentence under fabricated charges. In May 2020, the Tehran Prosecutor ordered to freeze her bank accounts without justification. Since then, requests for clarification made by her husband and her lawyer have been left unanswered.

The Observatory is further concerned about recent reports of additional cases of COVID-19 in detention facilities. Over the past week, random tests in Ward 8 of Tehran’s Evin prison showed that 12 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, which led to their transfer to the prison clinic on August 9. Among them are human rights defenders Esmaeil Abdi, former Secretary General of the Teachers Association, Jafar Azimzadeh, Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, and lawyer Amir Salar Davoodi. The Observatory is particularly concerned about the health of Messrs. Abdi and Azimzadeh, as they suffer from asthma and from kidney and heart diseases, respectively.

The Observatory also recalls that on July 11, 2020, Ms. Narges Mohammadi, Spokesperson and Vice-President of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), tested positive to COVID-19. Ms. Mohammadi, who has been detained since May 5, 2015, and is currently detained in Zanjan prison, Zanjan Province, had been displaying COVID-19 symptoms since late June. After her test results, she was placed in quarantine with 11 other prisoners who also tested positive for COVID-19. Ms. Mohammadi suffers from several serious health conditions, including a pulmonary embolism and a neurological disorder, which make her particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Observatory recalls that in Iran scores of human rights defenders remain behind bars as a punishment for their human rights activities. Given the poor detention conditions in the country’s detention facilities, the high risk of contracting COVID-19, and the totally unacceptable deprivation of their liberty, the Observatory reiterates its call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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