UNOHCHR: Remarks on COVID-19 in Iran's Prisons, Death of Daniel Zeinolabedini
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 3 April 2020
Subject: 1) COVID-19
After the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s last week urged governments to reduce overcrowding in prisons in order to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection, we are encouraged to note that a number of countries have indeed been taking action on this front.
Iran for example has increased the number it is releasing, at least on a temporary basis, to around 100,000 prisoners – some 40 percent of the entire prison population. Yesterday, Indonesia announced it would be releasing some 30,000 prisoners convicted of minor crimes, including drug use, and we understand Turkey is similarly considering to release a large number of inmates.
Other countries have also been announcing prisoner releases of varying numbers, including of specific at-risk groups such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, elderly prisoners, those who are sick, minor and low-risk offenders, people nearing the end of their sentences and others who can safely be reintegrated into society. We urge States to release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views.
We stress that with respect to people fairly convicted of serious crimes recognized under international law, or prisoners who might pose serious risk to others, they should only exceptionally be considered for temporary release from custody during the course of the pandemic.
We continue to urge all countries to review who is being held and to take measures as soon as possible to ensure the physical distancing necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 becomes feasible.
Returning to Iran, we are horrified at the death of a juvenile offender after he was reportedly badly beaten by security officers.
According to information we have received, Daniel Zeinolabedini was put in solitary confinement and beaten by security officers in Mahabad prison in Orumiyeh city in West Azerbaijan Province after a riot erupted on 28 March. Prisoners were protesting at prison conditions and the failure of the authorities to temporarily release them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was then reportedly transferred to Miandoab prison, also in West Azerbaijan province, where he suffered further ill-treatment at the hands of prison officials.
His family said he called them on 31 March to tell them he had been badly beaten, could hardly breathe and desperately needed help. His death was confirmed on 2 April.
We are particularly shocked as Zeinolabedini was on death row for a crime he allegedly committed in September 2017 at the age of 17. His murder conviction and death sentence were upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court in October 2018. He continued to profess his innocence. As we have repeatedly said, the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by people below the age of 18 at the time of the offence is strictly prohibited under international human rights law and such sentences should be immediately quashed.
We remind Iran of its heightened duty to protect the lives of individuals in detention. We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately conduct an independent and impartial investigation into Zeinolabedini’s death and hold those responsible to account.
We are also concerned at the fate of six other people who were also reportedly beaten during the riot on 28 March and taken to Miandoab prison. We urge the Iranian authorities to take all measures to protect their lives.