Release All Political Prisoners in Iran During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Release All Political Prisoners in Iran During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Middle East Matters Organization started this petition to United Nations and

Twelve political prisoners have recently tested positive for COVID-19 at Iran's Evin Prison's Ward 8. Only one has been hospitalized, and the rest, despite several prisoners having severe underlying health conditions, have not received proper medical care.

Many prisoners have reportedly displayed symptoms; however, only 17 prisoners were recently tested. In addition to the lack of testing, there is no separation between prisoners displaying symptoms and the larger prison population; therefore, there is grave concern that a large number of prisoners may have contracted the virus.

In March 2020, Iran temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners; however, political prisoners were largely left out. Following this mass release, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said: "only those serving sentences of less than five years had been freed, while prisoners charged with heavier sentences and those linked to participation in anti-government protests remained in jail." 

One of these prisoners is Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist who is currently serving a 38-year prison sentence largely for her work defending numerous activists. 

On August 11, 2020, Sotoudeh began her second hunger strike in less than six months to demand the release of political prisoners threatened by the COVID-19 virus. 

Sotoudeh's hunger strike follows a lack of response from the judicial authorities to several letters she had written about poor conditions surrounding political prisoners, Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 11, 2020.

As of August 14, Iran had recorded over 19,000 COVID-19 deaths, already the highest figure in the Middle East.

Families of political prisoners have voiced great concern over poor conditions and lack of adequate testing in Iran's prisons. According to Amnesty International, "many of Iran's prisons have detention conditions that fall far short of international standards, including overcrowding, poor ventilation, limited hot water during the winter season, inadequate food, insufficient beds, and insect infestations."

In July, Amnesty International obtained four leaked letters sent by senior officials responsible for managing Iran's prisons to the Ministry of Health that show the Iranian government has repeatedly ignored pleas to control the spread of COVID-19 and treat infected prisoners.

We, the undersigned, urge the United Nations, the European Union, and the rest of the international community to speak up against the Iranian government's cruel and unfair treatment of prisoners, especially during a global pandemic. 

We urge the Iranian government to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders, environmental activists, religious minorities, and those detained for peacefully taking part in protests.

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