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Coronavirus Ravaging Prisons in Iran, Human Rrights Group Says

While covering their faces, Iranian youth who had been arrested in recent student protests, sit in a hallway of the Evin prison, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 15, 2003. (AP Photo)

The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), an international human rights organization, has accused Iran of hiding facts about the dire conditions in prisons across Iran amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The ABC's new report, published on Wednesday, September 2, on its website, is based on testimonies presented by dozens of inmates, attorneys, and informed sources in various Iranian prisons.

"Hygienic conditions in Iranian prisons, rather than improving, have significantly deteriorated" since April, the ABC report says, which accuses Iran of not releasing data showing the coronavirus spread in prisons, including the number of prisoners who have tested positive, been hospitalized or died of the virus.

The ABC NGO is named after an Iranian lawyer and politician who was assassinated in a 1991 Paris stabbing attack.

Following the report's release, the executive director of the Boroumand Foundation, Roya Boroumand, told AFP that it was impossible to quantify the spread of coronavirus in Iranian jails, but that the information obtained by the ABC was troubling.

"If there is not a problem, then why don't we know (the figures)?" Boroumand said. "We suspect that that's really bad."

Boroumand added that even at the height of the pandemic, Iran showed no mercy to detainees, be they political prisoners, drug users or members of the proscribed Bahai faith.

In the first months of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, reports circulated of prisoners being granted leave, while some inmates revolted against their health conditions.

However, in the past few months, the process of granting leave has been canceled, with some judicial officials and prison officials claiming that the prisoners' condition amid the deadly virus outbreak is "under control," though they have so far refused to provide relevant statistics or details.

"In August 2020, COVID-19 raged throughout Iran and spread inside overcrowded, aging, and unhygienic prisons," the ABC report states. "Iran has failed to allocate resources to these prisons, where even locally produced soap and disinfectants are scarce. Still, it has made hundreds of millions of dollars available for funding religious projects, including the reconstruction of holy sites in Iraq."

"Failure to isolate an infected prisoner in Zanjan prison has exposed Ms. Mohammadi and the entire women's ward to coronavirus," the report adds, referring to the case of an award-winning human rights advocate, Narges Mohammadi, who is behind bars in the Zanjan prison.

The ABC report also notes that research into human rights conditions in Iran faces severe limitations. "The Iranian authorities do not permit independent human rights monitors to access the country and its prisons," the report says. "Individuals who report on human rights abuses face arrest and prosecution, and increased punishment if they are already in prison. Many Iranians, including human rights activists and lawyers, have been imprisoned or currently serving prison terms for reporting human rights violations by various government bodies and the judiciary. Others have been forced into exile."

Dismissing the impact of U.S. sanctions on prisons in Iran, the ABC report says that the failure to allocate adequate resources for Iran's prison system is a decades-old problem.

"Iranian officials have sung the praises of their coronavirus response in prisons, which they tout as exemplary for the region, if not for the world," the report reads. "Yet, the credibility of their claims is undermined by their blatant under-reporting of cases, their denial of prison access to independent human rights observers, and the persecution of citizens who disseminate accurate information about the virus."

Documents recently leaked to Amnesty International indicate that Iran's Ministry of Health has repeatedly ignored urgent appeals from the Prisons Organization to remedy the widespread shortages of protective equipment, disinfectant products, and medical supplies needed by Iranian prisons to fight the pandemic.

To date, according to official statistics from the Ministry of Health of Iran, the coronavirus death toll has reached nearly 22,000, and the number of infected people is approximately 379,000.

Some independent sources have questioned the accuracy of the Ministry of Health statistics and reported that the actual number of casualties is at least twice the number than officially claimed.