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Iran Judiciary Says Prison Guards Involved In Jail Riot In Northwestern City

Smoke rising from Sheiban Prison in the southwestern Khuzestan Province during prisoners' protest to being denied furlough. March 31, 2020.

An official of Iran's Judiciary on Tuesday said prison guards had been involved in the escape of prisoners from a jail in the northwestern city of Saqqez on March 27.

In a radio program on Tuesday Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, Spokesman of the Judiciary, said the riot in Saqqez prison "was a unique incident" which had become possible with the help of a few of the prison staff. All inmates broke out the prison in what he called a "conspiracy by inmates".

The prison staff involved in the incident have been arrested and the majority of the prisoners who escaped have also been captured with the help of information provided by the locals or surrendered, Esmaili said. He also claimed that eight inmates who are not considered dangerous are still missing.

Inmates of Saqqez prison rioted on March 27 after they were refused furlough to keep them safe from the coronavirus. Prison unrest was also reported in the cities of Tabriz, Aligudarz, Shiraz, Sheiban and Sepidar in Khuzestan Province, and Fashafuyeh in the south of Tehran.

Video showing prisoners escaping from prison in Saqqez.

Amnesty International reported on April 9 that as many as 36 inmates were shot dead by guards in Sepidar and Shiban prisons in Khuzestan during unrest.

One prisoner who had escaped from Saqqez prison, Mostafa Salimi, was executed on April 12 on alleged charges of masterminding the prison break in the largely Kurdish-populated city.

Salimi had served 17 years in Saqqez prison for his political activities and what the Revolutionary Court calls "taking up arms against the Islamic Republic" without a single day of furlough. The city has the largest Kurdish population among Iranian cities. Salimi had escaped to the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq and according to Iran Human Rights (IHR) the Kurdistan Regional Government arrested him and handed him over to Iranian authorities.

Following the coronavirus pandemic the Iranian judiciary allowed tens of thousands of prisoner to go on furlough. However, many of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been excluded from temporary release from prison.

Iran's human rights activists say all non-violent prisoners should be allowed to go on furlough. Iranian prisons are overcrowded and sanitary and healthcare facilities are not adequate even at ordinary times. According to official figures in July 2019 there were more than 189,000 inmates in Iranian prisons.