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Rights Watchdog Says Dozens Of Prisoners Killed In Iran Coronavirus Protests

Smoke rising from Sheiban Prison in Ahvaz during prisoner protests. April1, 2020

As many as 36 prisoners in Iran are feared dead after security forces used lethal force to control protests triggered by fears of Covid-19, Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement on Thursday, April 9.

Referring to widespread protests in recent days in different prisons across Iran, AI says that thousands of prisoners in at least eight prisons around the country staged protests over fears of contracting the coronavirus, sparking deadly responses from prison officers and security forces.

“It is abhorrent that instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of the Middle East and North Africa.

"In several prisons, live ammunition and tear gas were used to suppress protests, killing around 35 prisoners and injuring hundreds of others, according to credible sources. In at least one prison, security forces beat those taking part in the protest action, possibly leading to the death of an inmate" AI reiterated.

The international watchdog added, "An independent investigation into the torture and deaths in custody is urgently needed with a view to bringing to justice those found responsible."

Meanwhile, the chief of police in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran, has admitted that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) members stepped in to assist his forces, after inmates in two prisons in Ahvaz, Sepidar and Sheyban (Shiban) set fire to garbage cans.

Ahvaz is the capital city of the oil-rich Khuzestan province, southwest Iran, where the majority of Arabic speaking Iranians live.

Earlier on Tuesday, April 7, a human rights activist, Karim Dahimi, had told Radio Farda that more than eighty political and civil rights advocates held in Ahvaz's notorious Sheyban prison were transferred to an unknown location.

The prisoners had earlier protested their condition on March 31, and Dahimi asserted that he had collected the names of eight prisoners, some battered and tortured by security forces.

According to Dahimi, several inmates were directly hit by bullets, and there is no information on their whereabouts.

There were also reports earlier disclosing that the security forces had opened fire on protesters in Ahvaz's infamous Sepidar prison, killing several.

In its Thursday statement, AI says, "Independent media and human rights organizations have reported that inmates from several prisons have tested positive for the virus. Consequently, many prisoners have staged hunger strikes in protest at the authorities’ failure to respond to their demands for releases, testing in prisons, provision of adequate sanitary products and facilities, and the quarantining of prisoners suspected of infection."

Meanwhile, based on separate reports filed by human rights groups, the Islamic Republic security forces have so far killed ten inmates in Tehran's infamous prison, Fashafuyeh (the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary, GTCP), and Qarchak detention center in the city of Varamin, as well as in a jail in the city of Orumieh, northwest Iran.

Senior Iranian officials and the Judiciary have not commented on these reports.