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Foreign Affairs

Political Prisoners Remain in “Limbo,” Untested for Coronavirus Despite Symptoms

One week after judicial officials announced they had released tens of thousands of prisoners to prevent more coronavirus outbreaks, peaceful political prisoners in Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison are in limbo and remain untested for COVID-19 even as they exhibit symptoms, according to their relatives.

One political prisoner’s relative told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that her father was being kept in a ward with other inmates who officials “suspected” had coronavirus despite the prison clinic doctor recommending that he be released on furlough.

Her father and dozens of others kept in the same ward meanwhile don’t have access to masks to protect themselves, said Hengameh Vahedian Shahroudi, the daughter of Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi, who has been detained in Vakilabad Prison since August 2019 after signing an open letter with 13 other political activists calling for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s resignation.

“My father called today [March 10] and he was still coughing five days after he went to the prison clinic,” she said. “His lungs are infected and he’s getting breathing attacks.”

She continued: “The clinic doctor told the prison authorities that my father must be sent on medical leave, but the head of prison security told my father that he has an open case and no bail has been set to enable his release. I went to the presiding judge and told him that my father’s case has been in limbo for seven months. He was arrested on August 18 [2019]. You neither sentenced him nor granted him furlough and now he’s in prison suspected of having the coronavirus. The judge said he had read my father’s case but for the time being was not able to make a decision.”

She added: “They are not testing the prisoners for the coronavirus. They are holding the suspected cases in one of the wards where previously new prisoners were quarantined for a week before being transferred to other wards. There are about 30 prisoners there and none of them have been tested for the coronavirus. If one of them catches it, they will all be infected. They don’t have gloves or masks or anything.”

“We are very worried about this situation but when we make inquiries, the authorities respond with threats,” Shahroudi said. “When I informed the public about the lack of health products and procedures in prison, the head of the State Prisons Organization accused me of spreading falsehoods. We really don’t know what to do.”

The brother of political prisoner Fatemeh Sepehri also expressed concern about his sister’s condition in the women’s ward of Vakilabad Prison.

“When my sister called us [from prison], she said her ward had been evacuated and inmates suspected of having the coronavirus had been transferred there,” Asghar Sepehri told CHRI. “My sister and her cellmates were transferred to another ward that is very crowded.”

Sentenced to six years in prison in February 2020, Fatemeh Sepehri was among a group of women political activists who in August 2019 signed a letter expressing solidarity with 14 fellow activists who had called for the supreme leader to step down. She is the only person among those 14 who have not been released on bail pending a decision on her appeal.

“The Appeals Court has not issued a decision yet, so we went to presiding Judge [Hadi Mansouri of Branch 4 of the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad] to ask him to set bail for my sister,” Asghar Sepehri added. “But he said it’s not his job to set bail and we should go and ask the Appeals Court judge instead. But the Appeals Court judge is giving us the round around. He told us to bring a property deed worth 1.2 billion tomans ($ 284,647 USD) as bail. They have essentially decided not to release her.”

Sources have informed CHRI that at least eight prisoners have contracted coronavirus in provinces located in three provinces: Tehran Province, Khorasan Razavi Province, and West Azerbaijan Province.

In his latest report presented to the Human Rights Council, Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said he was seriously concerned about “overcrowding, poor nutrition and a lack of hygiene” in Iran’s prisons and at a press briefing called for all political prisoners to be released to protect them from COVID-19 infections.

Source: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

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