March was a deadly month across Iran, with a large increase in the number of deaths from the Covid-19 disease and the spread of the coronavirus in Iran’s prisons.
At least 14,700 in 237 cities across Iran passed away from the novel virus as of March 31.
Iranian prisons and detention centers were one of the most vulnerable centers hit by coronavirus due to regime’s negligence.
Various inmates in different jails throughout Iran are infected with this illness. Six inmates have already lost their lives in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary (Fashafuyeh), which lacks even basic hygiene necessities. Inmates suffering from coronavirus are not being separated from others in this facility.
In Ghezelhesar Prison of Karaj, west of Tehran, a number of inmates have been infected with COVID-19 and some have even lost their lives. The prisons of Raja’i Shahr and Evin, along with the women’s prison of Qarchak, and dozens of other large and small jails in Tehran and Alborz provinces are under the same conditions. The situation in prisons of other provinces are reported as very dire. Most of Iran’s prisons are filled with twice or three times the number of their capacity.
There were reports of several deaths of prisoners infected with the coronavirus in various prisons.
The regime’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi in late February claimed that the regime will be sending prisoners on temporary leave to control the growing COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
On February 27, the state-run news agency, ISNA, reported: “Following … some concerns about the spread of the virus in prisons, the Coronavirus Management Committee in Tehran suggested to the Judiciary that some prisoners in Tehran province should be allowed to go on leave while conforming to the terms of their leave.” Subsequently, Raisi engaged in a publicity stunt by issuing a directive that new prisoners would not be accepted. Nevertheless, the arrival of new prisoners has continued as before.
Furthermore, the authorities excluded peaceful political prisoners from the mass prisoner release that was announced by Judiciary Chief.
In several cases, political prisoners were forced to remain in overcrowded jails even as inmates around them have been transferred out due to suspected coronavirus infections or exhibited symptoms of it.
In the month of March, many prisoners’ families raised concerns for the wellbeing of those jailed and called for the release of prisoners of conscience and those held on politically motivated charges.
Hundreds of prisoners went on hunger strike, asking the authorities to regularly disinfect prisons, provide masks and hand sanitizers to prisoners, quarantine those suspected of having the virus and grant prison leave to as many prisoners as possible.
In March, Iranian prisoners rioted and fled from several prisons across the country in fear of getting infected with the coronavirus during the country’s epidemic.
It started in Khoramabad and Aligoudarz, followed by Tabriz and Saqqez. On March 28, the wave of prison riots reached Hamedan and Mahabad prisons. On March 29 it was the turn of Adelabad Prison of Shiraz. On March 30 and 31, there were reports of riots in two prisons in Ahvaz.
Prisoners were demanding that the regime disinfect prison grounds, allow prison furloughs, give sanitary packages to prisoners including masks and hand gels and to quarantine prisoners suspected of being infected with the virus.
In the Iran Human Rights Monitor Monthly Report – March 2020, we provide a brief glimpse into the poor prison conditions, which are highly prone to the spread of the coronavirus.
The prison holds an estimated 15,000 people. It’s housed so many Iranian intellectuals that it’s been nicknamed “Evin University.”
Inmates infected with coronavirus have been seen in wards 4, 7 and 8. As a result, all activities outside of the wards have been canceled, and the wards placed under quarantine.
A significant number of political prisoners are suffering from Coronavirus symptoms, such as severe coughing and high fever. However, no measures have been taken to treat or quarantine these infected inmates.
Prison authorities refuse entering the cells for daily head counts in fear of being infected and count the prisoners outside the cells. There is an absolute shortage of hygienic and disinfectants, and Coronavirus test kits are non-existent. Inmates are told to purchase the necessary hygienic supplies from outside the prison.
Wards have run out of medicines, sanitary, and hygiene supplies as of late February. Prisoners face lack of gloves, hand disinfecting gel, face masks and other necessary supplies.
A prisoner described the poor conditions in notorious Evin prison as a hellhole. He wrote: “The wards of Evin Prison are packed with inmates, far higher than the capacity. Twenty to twenty-five inmates are held in one room, most of whom sleep on the floor. The food is very poor in quality. They use soya in the food that is specially made for livestock. The food literally cannot be eaten. There is no sign of vegetables or any protein-rich foods. The inmates are served half-cooked rice and soya on a daily basis.
“In regards to those who become ill, there is literally no medical care. There is not even any medicine or medical care for simple cases of colds. Doctors only visit a very limited number of inmates each day. Each section with 200 inmates is only allowed to send five people for such visits. Even if you are able to be visited there is literally no medicine. Prison authorities say, ‘A noble individual must be found to purchase medicine because the prison has no responsibility in this regard.’
The Greater Tehran Penitentiary
With an official capacity of 15,000 inmates, the Greater Tehran Penitentiary (GTP), located in Tehran Province’s Fashafouyeh district, 20 miles southeast of the capital, is the largest detention facility in the country.
Known for its “inhumane” living conditions, the prison also known as Fashafouyeh, was built in 2015 primarily for holding suspects and inmates convicted of drug-related offenses but Iran’s judiciary has also used it to incarcerate activists and dissidents. In wards 2 and 5 of the prison, political detainees and protesters arrested during the November 2019 protests are being held.
The situation in GPT, is especially critical amid the country’s COVID19 crisis. Six prisoners infected with coronavirus have died and many others have contracted ever since the COVID-19 crisis began.
Amirhosein Moradi, a political prisoner who has been sentenced to death along with two other prisoners have tested COVID19 positive. They were first taken to the hospital but returned back the day after and have been taken to an unknown place.
Hygiene conditions in the prison wards are reported as atrocious. Each room has a high number of prisoners cramped inside and many don’t even have a bed to sleep on, forced to lay down and rest on dirty floors.
According to reports, prisoners face lack of necessary hygiene supplies including face masks and hand disinfectant gel.
Despite the coronavirus starting to spread in the prison, authorities and officials have to this day remained silent on this subject and refusing to provide any report on the status of ordinary and political prisoners. As a result, the lives of many inmates in this prison are in grave danger.
Raja’i Shahr Prison
Raja’i Shahr Prison is in Gohardasht, a town in the northern outskirt of Karaj, approximately 20 km west of the capital Tehran.
Former detainees paint a highly disturbing and terrifying picture of conditions inside the prison.
Many political prisoners and prisoners of conscience including Sunni inmates are currently being held in this facility.
The total number of prisoners in the prison is estimated at between 8,000 and 12,000, while the facility has the capacity for 3,000.
The prison has 10 wards. Each ward consists of three halls and each hall has 30 rooms.
The ward of political prisoner and prisoner of conscience has no appropriate ventilator. Reports indicate that prisoners suspected of being infected are kept in public wards and are returned to the public wards after simply taking their temperature, despite severe coughing and fever. Inmates say that despite authorities’ denials of new prisoner entrees, new prisoners have routinely been taken there in recent days and even transfers to courts and judicial centers continue. On February 26, several inmates of the workers’ ward of Greater Tehran Prison were transferred to Rajai-Shahr to maintain services such as cooking. Given the spread of coronavirus in Greater Tehran Prison, the risk of infection is high.
In an open letter more than 100 prisoners of conscience held in Raja’i Shahr prison expressed concern over the poor prison conditions and the spread of the virus among prisoners. They called on international bodies, and in particular the World Health Organization, to take action on what they described as ” deadly catastrophe as a result of the coronavirus in prison.”
Central Prison of Karaj
Reports from Karaj Central Prison indicate that every prison hall that has the capacity for 200 people is now packed by 700 people. Due to lack of space and beds in cells, many of the prisoners are forced to sleep on the ground and on cardboards.
Prisoners with mental illness and contagious diseases such as hepatitis have been abandoned with no medical care, and they’re mixed with other prisoners, causing the spread of dangerous diseases among the population of the facility.
Family visits were cancelled in the prison because of the spread of coronavirus. The ward allocated to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience has been turned into the quarantine space for the infected. Prison authorities have placed political prisoners in the workers’ ward. The prison’s hygienic conditions are catastrophic. In each prison hall, only 100 prisoners have beds. From early morning, the rest spend time in the prison courtyard and during the night sleep on the floor in the corridors adjacent to the sanitary facilities.
At least seven inmates are infected with COVID-19 in Karaj’s Ghezelhesar Prison. Not only have the authorities refused to take care of them, but they have also provided no information about their condition. They have been identified as: Said Hemati, Meisam Monouri, and Mohammad-Hessam Rahimi.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak in Ghezelhesar Prison, there are no hygiene supplies such as soap and detergent for the prisoners. The prisoners are also lacking masks and gloves. The cells are not disinfected regularly. The prison’s water is cut off four hours per day. Baths are closed and there is no warm water.
According to reports, prison authorities have said to prisoners that the hot water tank is broken and asked prisoners for money to buy a new one. In response to the prisoners’ protest, the guards said, “You will die and then will be relieved.”
At the same time, vicious torture of prisoners continues. After 9:30 PM the lights are turned off. Intrusive inspections are performed in the halls. Prison guards inspect prisoners’ belongings and leave them in disarray. They also steal their clothes and watches. Any kind of protest is severely punished.
Many prisoners have remained in jail in horrible hygienic conditions after the outbreak of the coronavirus in prisons. They are not granted temporary leaves.
Since the coronavirus surfaced, the prison has only been disinfected once. However, due to horrible hygienic conditions, it had to be disinfected every day. Gloves and masks were not available to prisoners. Food and bread were distributed in unhygienic conditions in the prison.
New prisoners were not tested for the coronavirus. They turned the prison’s prayer room into a quarantine for new prisoners. They are holding suspected cases in the same room with the new prisoners. If one of them catches it, they will all be infected. They don’t have gloves or masks or anything.
Qarchak or Shahr-e Rey Prison is a disused chicken farm turned into a prison for women. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the sanitary conditions in this prison were deplorable.
On February 26, 2020, a prisoner suspected of being infected with Covid-19 was sent to a medical center out of prison. There were other prisoners suspected of being infected but they were abandoned on their own and did not receive any medical care even in the prison’s dispensary.
Around March 20, two female prisoners infected with the coronavirus died in solitary confinement due to lack of medical care. The prisoners were initially transferred along with eight other inmates to a newly established ward called, “Bashgah (or club),” where female protesters arrested during the November 2019 uprising are being detained.
As the conditions of the two prisoners aggravated, they were sent to a hospital outside prison, but were turned down and returned to prison.
At this time, they were sent to solitary confinement. One of the prisoners suffered from Hepatitis B. The lifeless bodies of these prisoners have been transferred out of prison to be buried.
They do not even have any handwashing detergent. Each prisoner receives a package of washing powder for one month which is very little.
Some political prisoners including Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Marjan Davari and Raha Ahmadi are still detained in this prison in breach of the principle of separation of different categories of prisoners, and at risk of being infected.
Vakil Abad Prison
Peaceful political prisoners in Mashhad’s Vakil Abad Prison are in limbo and remain untested for Covid-19 even as they exhibit symptoms.
Prison authorities 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.
In Ahvaz Shiban Prison, at least two inmates, Milad Baghlani and Hamid-Reza Makki, have contracted coronavirus and have been transferred to prison quarantine. There is no information about their situation.
Other inmates were not tested for coronavirus.
Inmates of Sheiban Prison, located in Khuzestan Province of southwest Iran, launched a riot on Tuesday, March 31. The sound of gunfire and tear gas was heard from inside the facility at 5 pm local time. The mullahs’ regime dispatched many security units to encircle Sheiban Prison with numerous layers of various forces in a desperate attempt to both control the situation and prevent any leak of information to the outside world. Locals reported hearing inmates shouting and protest to the prison authorities.
Prisoners set their blankets on fire to make the guards open the doors. The guards refused to do so therefore several prisoners died of serious burn injuries and several others were wounded.
One of the prisoners who lost his life was Majid Gheitasi.
A local source said, “For a few minutes we could hear the sound of gunfire and tear gas from inside the Sheiban Prison, also known as Ahvaz Central Prison. Even though this facility is located on the city outskirts, regime authorities had dispatched numerous security units to encircle the entire area.”
The inmates were protesting lack of medical supplies and the coronavirus spread inside the jail. However, regime officials and authorities are refusing to provide any support and are resorting to oppressive crackdown measures.
Further reports indicate that the families of the inmates at Sheyban prison gathered in front of the facility that night and demanded authorities to release their loved ones. The regime’s forces responded by opening fire and shooting tear gas at the protesters.
Other videos show 30 ambulances being shuttled into the facility. According to some reports, the regime’s suppressive forces have murdered several prisoners during the riot.
On March 30, inmates of Sepidar Prison of Ahvaz, southwest Iran, launched a riot and protested the regime’s refusal to release them so that they could avoid contracting Coronavirus. Videos posted on social media platforms showed smoke raising from Sepidar Prison that could be seen from a far. Family members of inmates held in Sepidar Prison rallied outside the facility expressing concerns about their loved ones.
The unrest was sparked by unsanitary conditions inside the prison, where is unprepared to handle the coronavirus outbreak. The prisoners were also protesting the authorities’ refusal to grant them prison leave despite the outbreak.
During the riot the IRGC shot and killed at least seven prisoners named Mohammad Tamoli, Mohammad Lefteh, Mohammad Salamat, Ali Khafaji, Majid Zubidi, Shahin Zahiri and Seyed Reza Khorsani (Moghinemi). Many were injured in Sepidar Prison. The regime is trying to cover up this heinous crime and prevent the disclosure of the names and number of the murdered prisoners.
Urmia Central Prison
At least one inmate, Fariq Mohammadi, 47, has died; five others have been transferred to medical centers. The minimum essential hygienic products are not available in this prison, where overcrowding forces inmates to sleep on the floor in the proximity of sanitary facilities.
Nurses in special protective clothes transferred an inmate from ward 14 to a medical center out of the prison on suspicion of coronavirus infection on February 27. There is no information about his whereabouts. One of the prisoners in ward 3 has contracted the virus. There are about 900 prisoners in wards 3 and 4.
A number of prisoners in Zahedan Prison who contracted the coronavirus have been transferred to unknown locations. The virus has spread in ward 4, where at least one prisoner has been transferred out. A large number of political prisoners are being held in this ward and are in danger of contracting the virus. A number of prisoners from other wards who had been infected were transferred after a delay of several days and after their conditions had worsened. There is no news about their whereabouts. Prison officials cancelled all visits.
Cases of infection have been detected in ward 3, where the infected inmates are kept with others with no quarantine. Reportedly, on February 25, a dying inmate was transferred out of the prison. Nothing is known about his fate.
The healthy inmates of one ward of Ardebil Central Prison have been evacuated and prisoners that show symptoms of the virus have been transferred to this ward. There are a large number of political prisoners in this prison.
The reason for the coronavirus outbreak in the country was the regime’s cover-up and secrecy about the virus.
The regime’s cover-up about the Coronavirus is a clear violation of the WHO regulations, especially the resolution adopted by its general assembly in 2005. Article 6 of the resolution to which the regime was also a party, states: “Each State Party shall assess events occurring within its territory by using the decision instrument in Annex 2. Each State Party shall notify WHO, by the most efficient means of communication available, by way of the National IHR Focal Point, and within 24 hours of assessment of public health information, of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern within its territory in accordance with the decision instrument, as well as any health measure implemented in response to those events. If the notification received by WHO involves the competency of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), WHO shall immediately notify the IAEA.”
Iran Human Rights Monitor calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iran to dispatch an international fact-finding mission to visit Iran prisons, and inquire about the conditions of prisoners.
Iran HRM also calls on all international human rights organizations to undertake effective efforts to secure the release of all prisoners, especially political prisoners.