Amid the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, United Nations human rights experts have called for the immediate release of thousands of political activists, dual nationals and foreigners imprisoned in Iran.
The experts, including the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, and the UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary and unjust executions, Agnes Callamard, say the Islamic Republic should expand its temporary release of thousands of detainees to include prisoners of conscience, dual and foreign nationals who are still behind bars despite the serious risk of being infected with COVID-19.
In a report released on Friday, April 20, the experts asserted that while Iran's Ministry of Health has officially stated that one person falls victim to COVID-19 every ten minutes in Iran, the Islamic Republic still holds many people in prisons.
"We recognize the emergency situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the problems it faces in fighting the pandemic, including reported challenges in accessing medical supplies due to sanctions", the UN experts noted, adding, "We echo [the UN] High Commissioner [Verónica Michelle] Bachelet’s call for the easing of sanctions to enable medical systems to fight COVID-19 and limit global contagion."
In recent weeks the Islamic Republic has also pushed for lifting U.S. sanctions, labeling it "medical terrorism". Russia and a few countries have supported Tehran’s demand, but Europe has shown lackluster sympathy for Tehran’s position.
Meanwhile, the United States has repeatedly countered the sanction-lifting pressure by arguing that humanitarian trade with Iran is not blocked, and the country, as well as its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have enough money to take care of the needs during the pandemic.
As the epicenter of the coronavirus in the Middle East, Iran is struggling with a plethora of problems in containing the deadly virus.
The UN human rights experts have commended the reported temporary release of 100,000 prisoners since a February 26 order by the head of the judiciary, which included Iranian political prisoners and dual and foreign nationals. However, most prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, environmentalists, and dual and foreign nationals remain imprisoned.
“Some (of the prisoners) are at great risk from COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions. We call on the authorities to immediately release them", the experts said, underlining the cases of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, defenders of human rights Ms. Narges Mohammadi and Arash Sadeghi, as well as dual nationals Ahmadreza Djalali (Iranian-Swedish national), Morad Tahbaz (Iranian-British-American national), Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb (Iranian-Austrian nationals).
According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), all seven have requested temporary release but have been rejected or not received a response.
"Mr. Tahbaz and Mr. Mossaheb are over sixty years old and could experience serious health consequences from COVID-19 due to their age, including loss of life", the experts noted, adding, "These individuals also have existing life-threatening health issues, as do Ms. Mohammadi, Mr. Sadeghi, Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Djalali, heightening the serious risk to their health if infected. The immediate-release by the Iranian judiciary of these individuals and other prisoners of conscience could save their lives."
Referring to several reports, the experts have affirmed that Morad Tahbaz and Massud Mossaheb have shared cells with people suffering common COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and coughing. Hygiene products are either non-existent or restricted, and physical distancing measures are not enforced. Ms. Mohammadi and Mr. Djalali have reportedly been held in small cells with twelve and sixteen people respectively. Ms. Sotoudeh has been on a hunger strike since March 16, 2020, in protest over the non-release of prisoners of conscience.
"Iran’s prisons have long-standing hygiene, overcrowding, and healthcare problems. We urge the Iranian authorities to implement measures consistent with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right of persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for their inherent dignity, and the right to life", the experts have asserted
They have also called on Iran to permanently release those arbitrarily detained. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that the detention of Ms. Mohammadi, Mr. Djalali and Mr. Sadeghi is arbitrary.
"We call on the Iranian authorities to expedite the independent and impartial review of all cases of suspected arbitrary detention and to immediately and permanently release all individuals found to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” the experts said.