Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran
Prison Conditions during the COVID-19 Crisis: Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
Abdorrahmamn Boroumand Center
October 12, 2020
Khorasan Razavi Province
Vakilabad Prison (Mashhad)
Prisoners in Vakilabad Prison (Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi) are also at risk. Overcrowding persists, like in Room 2 of Wards 6/1, where drug users are held, and in Room 4 where inmates sleep even in the entryway owing to lack of space. In Ward Five, up to 800 prisoners may be held in one room and prisoners have to sleep on the floor in the hallway and even on cardboard put over the toilets. Prisoner education about the coronavirus is limited to posters and leaflets telling them how to wash their hands properly. Even health personnel are not provided with enough masks or gloves. In Ward 6/1, an unidentified cleaning agent is sprayed twice a day.
According to Mohammad Nourizad, imprisoned at Vakilabad after signing an open letter demanding the Supreme Leader’s resignation, a viral outbreak has occurred in the women’s ward, prompting the sectioning off of a room for suspected coronavirus patients. Hengameh Vahedian, imprisoned for signing the same letter, said that 30 suspected COVID-19 patients are being kept in close quarters there without any testing. Prison officials reportedly conduct disinfections with concentrated bleach. In the prison clinic, those presenting with fevers have reportedly been handed suppositories and sent away without further explanation or treatment. The brother of Mohammad Hossein Sepehri, a teacher imprisoned at Vakilabad, says Sepehri began to show symptoms of the coronavirus on March 28 and was transferred on April 2 along with other political prisoners to a Ministry of Intelligence facility. Sepehri is presently being held in solitary confinement, while his brother insists that his condition warrants an urgent transfer to the hospital.
At Mashhad Central Prison Complex (commonly known as Vakilabad Prison), where the infection rate is reportedly high, the quarantine ward comprises five separate halls that have each been designated for specific uses since the pandemic: Halls 2, 3, and 5 are reserved for incarcerated people infected with coronavirus or with suspect symptoms. Hall 4 is reserved for incarcerated people who have recovered from the infection; they return to their wards after convalescing here for only a few days. Based on available information, these four halls hold between 540 and 660 incarcerated people, many of whom are confirmed to have been infected.
Hall 1 is a two-story prefabricated building with eight rooms and 700 beds. This hall serves as quarantine for up to 1500 newcomers, some sleeping on the floor and sharing beds, who are held for 21 days before being introduced into the general population. Prisoners receive a towel, a toothbrush and toothpaste, one piece of soap, and a small quantity of washing powder upon arrival; during this period, they share living spaces with prisoners who, upon returning from the hospital, are confined in Hall 1 for two to three weeks before being sent back to their wards. New arrivals are thus held shoulder-to-shoulder with prisoners at all stages of quarantine, rendering ineffective the entire isolation process.
Meanwhile, prisoners continue to be transferred to court appointments, though in fewer numbers than before. While masks are distributed to prisoners for these appointments, social distancing is not observed.
The women’s section of Mashhad Central Prison has seven wards that in total hold approximately 700 prisoners. Ward 5, usually reserved for political prisoners, has been repurposed for those with suspected COVID-19 symptoms or confirmed infections. The ward measures approximately 35 square meters and has two restrooms, one of which is used for storage. Limited space has thus pushed Ward 5’s political prisoners to Ward 3, usually reserved for minors. It consists of one large common area furnished with fifteen three-tier bunk beds, two showers, and two restrooms. Prisoners have access to a library and a gym during work hours, which closed briefly after the outbreak of the virus but have since been reopened.
Prison officials have not provided disinfectants or gloves to prisoners since the outbreak of COVID-19. Twice a week, prisoners are provided a spray canister to disinfect the wards. Prisoners can buy masks, but they are made within the unhygienic conditions of the prison.
Before the pandemic, new prisoners were quarantined in a two-story building for a week before being sent to the general population. Since the pandemic, prisoners have been kept for two days on the first floor, which lacks minimum standards of hygiene, and for 12 days on the second floor. Political prisoners are not quarantined at all; and are instead transferred immediately to their wards when they are brought into the prison. Prisoners being transported between court hearings and their cells use only hand sanitizer before being released into the general population.
In Tayabad Prison, the pandemic has been raging since early June. Incarcerated people here are still being taken to court as usual and are not being tested. Fearful families reported in early August that seven prison guards had tested positive for coronavirus and kept it secret, endangering approximately 300 incarcerated people as well as the prison staff.
Birjand Women’s Prison (South Khorasan Province)
In June 2020, the quarantine ward of the women’s section of Birjand Prison held about 120 prisoners, according to an IranWire report. The overcrowded ward had two usable toilets, near which are located sinks which prisoners use to wash utensils and baby diapers, as well as four showers. The prison provided liquid soap but no disinfecting products, masks, or gloves. Prison administrators and the National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus eventually responded to appeals from the prisoners' relatives on June 8 by providing three more toilets and distributing masks and gloves among the incarcerated people. If they want to communicate with or ask support from anyone on the outside, prisoners in quarantine must wait hours for a turn to use the ward's only phone.
Four Baha'i prisoners -- Saghar Mohammadi, Sheida Abedi, Simin Mohammadi, and Maryam Mokhtari -- were released on furlough at the beginning of the pandemic in March, and are suspected to have been infected since being summoned back on May 26. As of mid-June, they were still quarantined and had yet to be allowed visitation. According to a source that spoke with IranWire: “Upon arrival [in the quarantine ward], they found out that a number of women prisoners were suffering from fevers and chills, sore throats and aches. The problem was reported to prison officials, who ignored it. In the first week, Sheida Abedi suffered from these same complications and her illness worsened to such an extent that, last Friday (June 12), she suddenly fainted from the severity of it. Three other Baha'i women developed fevers, chills and sore throats over the following week."
With prisoner after prisoner falling ostensibly ill, a doctor came to the ward on June 14 to examine 80 patients, concluding that they had all come down with a simple cold. They were given acetaminophen pills and cough syrup. When Sheida Abedi and another prisoner were tested for coronavirus, they were told that their results came back negative.
In Zanjan Prison, where anti-death penalty activist Narges Mohammadi has been held among the general prison population since December 24, 2019, authorities' reported failure to isolate an infected prisoner has exposed the entire women's ward to coronavirus. In a letter sent from prison and published on July 12, Mohammadi -- who suffers from severe pre-existing health conditions -- reported that she and 11 of her wardmates experienced suspected COVID-19 symptoms at the end of June 2020. According to her letter, this happened one month after approximately 30 new prisoners, some with suspected coronavirus symptoms and one with confirmed viral infection, were sent to her ward.14 The letter, she wrote, is “my legal complaint about the imposed hardship and lack of medical care in Zanjan Prison over the past six months.” In another note from prison, released on July 22 by a former political prisoner on Twitter, Narges Mohammadi writes:
“July 5: There are twelve of us in the ward who have come down with the coronavirus. In the last few days since the disease was discovered, they separated us from the healthy people. There are absolutely no facilities or medical care here in the ward. We don’t even have hand sanitizer. They just give out ibuprofen. ... I can’t breathe. The pain is terrible… I’m exhausted. This is how it is for all of us… The guard has said they’ll bring in a doctor: so where are they?”
It was only after Mohammadi’s July 12 letter that authorities finally gave her access to a doctor. Based on her continued reports, however, the authorities who sent the doctor appeared to have been motivated more by concerns of optics than of prisoner rights and health:
“July 11: I’ve written a public letter describing the situation in the ward. Today they gave a mask to each of us. Yesterday, finally, they gave us the hand sanitizer we’d been begging for and paid for with our own money: just three bottles of it. Our general condition is disastrous. All my strength has left me…
July 13: Nausea. Vomiting. Fatigue. My sense of smell has gone away. I’m thinking that this disease is tougher even than the three surgeries I’ve had...
July 14: Again, no doctor yesterday. Today they came and said the doctor’s here, you ought to go see him. I said I don’t have it in me physically. They said it was mandatory. I dragged myself to the doctor’s room… The doctor asked how I was doing. I told him I was totally out of energy... “Take a deep breath!” he said. I did: my breath caught in the middle of my chest, and I fell into a coughing fit. It’s taken over my lungs. The doctor wrote a prescription: an IV drip, a B complex, and a 10 cc injection of something I don’t recognize… I wish they’d let us eat properly for a few days and recover a little spirit. The food here is awful. The stuff we can buy from the prison is even worse.... And they don’t let you buy anything from outside.
July 15: They came last night and gave me the injections… The doctor came again. They said, “it’s mandatory for Mohammadi to come in for a doctor’s visit.” I’m better than I was yesterday. The medications have had an effect. The doctor asked me how I was: I said fine. The prison guard said I’ve improved since last night when they gave me the IV drip. “Deep breath” said the doctor. I took one and started coughing…
After a few hours, I went back into the ward. I watched the 20:30 News Program [which featured a video of Mohammadi’s second doctor’s visit] there... Right then I realized why they made me go to the doctor, and that the [initial] footage wasn’t suitable for broadcast because I was in bad shape. They gave me the shots and drips so I could sit up for the film. Even then, they couldn’t broadcast it in its entirety. The cough wouldn’t let go of me. What their own prison guard had to say wasn’t fit for broadcast, either…
July 17: No word from the doctor since the 20:30 News broadcast. We’ve gotten by with the single masks they’ve given each of us. That fake, ugly video has really upset the incarcerated people. The day after the 20:30 News segment ran, they brought in two kilos of ground meat from the prison's general manager and passed it out. They told us we had to eat it… We told them after that lie-filled video of yours we don’t want any meat from you; they said you “have to” eat it, and we felt just as degraded.
July 22: I’m better. I still can’t go for a walk in the garden. But I’m better.15
In her July 12 letter, Narges Mohammadi requested an inspection of Zanjan Prison by the Ministry of Health. The letter’s content was reported by Persian-language media outside the country on July 13 and widely disseminated on social media thereafter. On July 14, a journalist from Etemad Newspaper questioned Gholam Hossein Esma’ili, the Judiciary’s spokesman, about Narges Mohammadi’s complaint. Esma’ili was vague in his response to questions about the lack of hygiene in Zanjan, and on the judiciary's plan to either transfer Mohammadi to Evin or send her on furlough to accommodate her pulmonary issues. He instead stressed that the health of all prisoners is a priority, and that the judiciary takes all necessary measures, in addition to general hygiene protocols, when a prisoner is suspected to have been infected: “... we have taken the same measures in Zanjan Prison,” he insisted. Starting July 16, Iranian media began disseminating the video clip of Mohammadi in brief moments where she was less symptomatic -- filmed covertly, without her consent -- in an attempt to undermine the accounts provided in her letters.
Mohammadi’s leaked notes triggered a statement by several special rapporteurs from the United Nations who called for the release of Mohammadi and all other prisoners with pre-existing conditions.19 Three weeks after the publication of Mohammadi’s request, however, the Health Ministry had not communicated any impending plans to inspect the sanitary conditions of Zanjan.
Greater Tehran Penitentiary
In the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, where many cases of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis, and hepatitis have been reported, the official approach seems to be more security- than health-oriented, and little information has been provided to prisoners about the disease. The prison remains too crowded to allow for proper social distancing: in late 2019 in Building 4, Ward 2, approximately 1,500 prisoners were divided in three rooms. Each room was equipped with only 14 toilets and showers to accommodate the 400 to 500 people it hosted. Hot water was made available one hour per day, sometime between 4 and 6 a.m. There is no self-serve source of drinking water. Personal cleaning products (soap, shampoo, washing powder) are distributed every few months, and in such small quantities that prisoners with more financial means buy their own supplies and donate their rations to cellmates in need.
Tuberculosis and meningitis are common in Greater Tehran, increasing inmates’ vulnerability to other infectious diseases. In late January/early February, a room in Ward 4 was quarantined for about 350 inmates with tuberculosis. Vaccines have also been distributed for meningitis, but in too limited quantities, according to ABC’s source, to protect all prisoners. After the pandemic was announced in late February, medical staff in at least one building were provided with protective clothing, which was removed only a few hours later on orders from prison security officials who said the gear would provoke fear among inmates. Consequently, clinic staff working there make do with only masks and gloves. In Building 1, a room has been quarantined for prisoners believed to be infected with coronavirus. Yet, on April 4, five prisoners suspected of being infected were found in Room 5, Building 2 of the same prison. The room in question, which was holding 200 prisoners, was immediately quarantined.39 ABC does not have information about the fate of those in quarantine.
At the end of June, information from the Greater Tehran Prison laid bare the extent of the virus’s spread in some wards. In Building 1, 52 prisoners were reportedly infected, and one prisoner was seen throwing up blood in Building 5, Room 4. According to information obtained by ABC, the number of incarcerated people in Building 1, which has poor aeration and air-conditioning, had increased to more than 600 by June, close to three times its capacity. Such severe overcrowding has made social distancing impossible for all those trapped inside. Provisions of free personal hygiene products have not been increased to meet the demands of the risky environment or the accelerating spread of the virus. In Building 5, soap is available in restrooms for handwashing, but prison authorities do not disinfect the wards or provide disinfecting products to prisoners.
On a single occasion, a small truck was brought to disinfect the prison during a visit of an expert from the Ministry of Health. In late March, volunteers from the Red Crescent cleaned the ward in Building 5; prison officials have not disinfected it since.
In practice, prisoner protection hinges on whether or not they can afford the cleaning and disinfecting products necessary to take prevention measures themselves. Masks are available only for those who can afford to buy them from prison stores. The prison guards, for the most part, wear masks.
Limited hot water and general water shortages have made cleaning in the time of the pandemic more challenging in Greater Tehran, particularly in wards where prisoners have fewer personal resources to protect themselves. Prisoners usually have access to showers for four to six hours per day, and hot water is only available after midnight. Due to recent water shortages, however, some prisoners in lower rungs of the social hierarchy may have to wait for weeks or months to shower. By June 19, one of the wards of Building 5 had been without hot water for two weeks, and older prisoners forced to bathe in cold water were getting sick. On one occasion the water was cut off across the building for an entire day, leaving hundreds of incarcerated people without drinking water. Prisoners are told that conflicts between prison and city officials are to blame for the low water pressure and hot water scarcity.
Prison authorities’ response to the water shortage has been to lock prisoners in their rooms to avoid unrest. ABC’s source reported that authorities have brought in several armed guards to instill fear among prisoners and prevent the circulation of information during the pandemic. Quarantine protocol is the same in Greater Tehran as it was before the pandemic: prisoners are held for 14 days before being integrated into the wards. Yet even during their quarantine period, prisoners must circulate between prison common areas and are in regular contact with others. Transport of prisoners to various buildings for visitation is done in a cramped, outdated bus whose passengers have no choice but to sit elbow to elbow. In Buildings 5 and 2, space designed for sports and cultural activity has been repurposed as holding quarters, commingling the visibly ill with those who have only mild symptoms.
Only prisoners in the direst and most rapidly deteriorating condition are transported to outside hospitals. Prisoners are very rarely tested, if at all, even when exhibiting severe symptoms or after returning from furlough. Protocol for transport to and from courts has not been adapted to the pandemic: up to 300 prisoners from various buildings are brought into the same room, in shackles, to be transferred to court by soldiers standing by. After their court appointments are finished, prisoners are brought back to the ward without being quarantined.
A source with knowledge of Building 5 in Greater Tehran relates that, by the beginning of August, a previously healthy ward in that building was put under quarantine after seven people took ill with COVID-19 symptoms following the introduction of new incarcerated people. As of that time period, two individuals were being held in a prayer room without medical care after being told there was no room for them in the central prison clinic; one of these, an older man, was in critical condition and could not use the bathroom unassisted. These suspected COVID-19 patients used common toilet and bathing areas. The source reports that the ward for suspect infections is located next to the one holding arrestees from the November 2019 protests. In light of the pre-existing conditions of incarcerated people in the ward, and of the fact that some have undertaken hunger strikes, the source expressed concern over the serious risk of an outbreak in their vicinity. It is only after the news about these patients was reported in Persian-speaking media outside Iran that prison officials moved them out of the ward. Prisoners suspected of COVID-19 infection, the source stated, are sometimes held alongside those who have been diagnosed.
Fashafuyeh Camp for Drug Offenders
The Fashafuyeh Camp, located more than 55 km outside the capital, near the Greater Tehran Prison, has been operational for about five years and according to statements by the camp’s director, Mohsen Shams, has three wings built around the prison, which spreads over 271 acres. The prison buildings cover 70 thousand meters and consist of 38 sulehs or metal frame buildings, partially buried in the ground, 12 of which are dedicated to the support staff. 26 buildings were designed to hold 300 prisoners each, but it is unclear how many prisoners they currently hold.
The continued mass arrest and detainment in camps of drug offenders is also exacerbating infection rates. Seventy-four per cent of the 7,702 drug users arrested in Tehran Province were sent to Fashafuyeh Camp. Sixty-six of these detainees have shown symptoms and were quarantined, according to a July statement by Mansur Hadizadeh, head of the Anti-Narcotic Coordination Council.
According to the Head of Tehran prisons, drug users were sent to Fashafuyeh because Article 16 detoxification centers ran out of space. The Fashafuyeh Camp is not equipped to meet the medical needs of thousands of people arrested for using drugs. The camp is an Article 42 camp, which holds prisoners convicted of drug related crimes carrying jail sentences of 15 years or more. Article 42 specifies that such prisoners should be held in “normal or harsh conditions,” and “in conditions harsher than prison conditions.”
Director General of Tehran Prisons Sohrab Soleimani confirms that camp conditions conform with the law in this regard. Iranian authorities have consistently refused to provide information about the treatment of prisoners at Fashafuyeh Camp. Likewise, they have not released information about the medical care being provided to detainees in COVID quarantine there.
Qarchak women’s prison (Varamin, Tehran Province)
At Qarchak women’s prison (Varamin, Tehran Province), there are 11 wards, two dedicated to drug offenders and two to prisoners convicted of violent crimes. The prison is notorious for its lack of hygiene, nutritious food, and medical care. Each ward, reportedly meant to hold 100, holds almost twice that number. There are 12 restrooms and 10 showers for each ward, several of which are broken or unusable for lack of water. Hot water is available one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. The prison water is not drinkable, forcing prisoners to buy bottled water at an exorbitant price from the prison store. Prisoners have very limited access to the prison clinic, where equipment and medication are scarce. Lawyer Omid Moradi, some of whose clients are being held in Qarchak, said in an interview with an Iranian news outlet that cleaning liquid is sold at five times its normal price within the prison. Around 2,000 inmates (1,000 according to a prison official) are kept in crowded conditions in which some have to sleep on the floor. Long lines form for a shared telephone which is not disinfected, and which inmates themselves are not able to disinfect. Given the prohibition on visitations, some prisoners have no money to purchase necessities, leading to a further decline in hygienic conditions. The small amount of issued soap and washing powder — inadequate for even normal circumstances — has not been increased to account for the COVID-19 crisis. Disinfectants, masks, and gloves are not available to inmates, nor are they used by soldiers and guards. Wards are reportedly disinfected daily and movement between wards has been banned.
Inmates with COVD-19-like symptoms have been segregated into the facility’s gym, which has been repurposed into its own ward. A recently released inmate reported that a prison clinic doctor and nurse have tested positive for COVID-19, as have 20 prisoners from Ward 5 and Ward 6. The latter have been moved to rooms dedicated to conjugal visits and are left without medical attention or equipment such as ventilators. Qarchak Prison does not have the means to stave off fleas: “[So] what do you think they can do to fight coronavirus?” the source said. A prison doctor interviewed in an Iranian media news report acknowledged having seen two COVID-19 infection cases in Qarchak.
Shahr-e Rey Penitentiary, commonly known as Qarchak Prison, has 12 wards to accommodate a prison population that fluctuates between 1200 and 2000. The majority of its incarcerated people are accused of drug-related crimes. Sanitary conditions in the prison are substandard, and political prisoners from other facilities are sometimes moved to Shahr-e Rey as punishment.
Every day, Shahr-e Rey’s sewer system overflows into the wards’ courtyards, filling the grounds with a terrible stench that draws in swarms of insects. Prison authorities have long been aware of the problem. The prison’s water is salty, resulting in hair and skin problems for the incarcerated people who have no choice but to shower in it. In the summer, the source of this salty water is sometimes cut off. The purportedly drinkable water -- which has an odor of sewage -- comes from a different source that is also cut off periodically in the summer, as it is the same source used for the air conditioning. Prisoners must buy bottled water from the prison store at a steep markup.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, prison officials have distributed disinfectants to prisoners once, and have never distributed additional cleaning or personal hygiene products. Masks made inside the prison in unsanitary conditions are distributed free of charge. Servings of Shahr-e Rey’s food, notoriously low in quality and quantity, have been cut to one fourth of pre-pandemic portions. The best remedy available to those who can afford it is canned food, which they are unable to heat up. Owing to the fact that non-standard gas lines installed in the prison have gone unaddressed, kitchenettes meant for prisoners’ use have never been opened.
The Supervision Ward (also called the gym) that held individuals arrested during protests is now a quarantine space for prisoners returning from furlough. Prisoners coming into Shahr-e Rey are supposed to be quarantined for 14 days in this ward. However, based on privileges gained through connections with prison staff and authorities, some prisoners are brought into the wards after only a few days of confinement. Whether or not prisoners remain quarantined for the full prescribed period, they still come into contact with the general population when charging their phone cards or buying from the store. The gym is also the designated holding area for prisoners suspected of having contracted COVID-19; by early August, it housed more than 30 such cases. A room above the clinic is dedicated to prisoners who are more severely ill, but not in critical condition. By mid-July it was reported that 30 incarcerated people were being held in that room. Prisoners in critical condition or with confirmed diagnoses are quarantined across at least seven conjugal visitation rooms, which as of early August house about 30 patients each. Patients are taken to the hospital as a last resort. Meanwhile, since July 7, the increase in the number of infected incarcerated people in Ward 5 has led to the quarantine of the entire ward; yet infected and healthy prisoners circulate in the same hallways and use the same kitchen.
On May 28, 2020, HRANA had reported an increase in the number of infections in Shahr-e Rey. The working days of the much-needed prison store had been reduced to two days since April, increasing the number of incarcerated people waiting in line, in proximity to each other, for long periods of time. On June 8, information published on social media by an Iran-based journalist and former political prisoner indicated that eight prisoners were infected after a symptomatic prisoner returning from furlough was transferred to a ward without quarantine. Those who tested positive were isolated and left unattended. The confirmed-positive prisoners were left without food that day until 5:00 PM. On June 9, a source from Shahr-e Rey indicated that political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian was among the infected. Upon publication of the news of her illness, authorities finally agreed to transfer her to the hospital, where a scan showed blood clots in her lungs. On July 10, Parastu Moini, a political prisoner awaiting trial, contracted the virus and was moved from Ward 5 to a room above the prison clinic where she was also left without medical care.
Tehran's Evin Prison
An ABC source reports that scant access to sanitation equipment in Tehran's Evin Prison has led staff to clean quarters with torches and topical antiseptic. Fevers and colds were common among inmates even before the coronavirus crisis. In one recent instance, guards wanted to introduce new prisoners directly into a ward, and only placed the newcomers in quarantine when the inmates protested. Sepideh Farhan, released temporarily from Evin on April 6, reported on Instagram that 19 women continue to be denied temporary leave there, including two who meet the judiciary’s guidelines for temporary release. There has been no increase in the 10-minute phone time prisoners have 3 times a week. Farhan expressed concerns about the delay in the provision of disinfectants and the fact that physicians are not permitted to enter the ward. Prisoners in need of medical attention have no choice but to go to the prison clinic, which they fear increases exposure to the virus. Quarantined inmates who cannot afford dishes, boiling water, and phone cards are denied them. In such circumstances, it is unclear how prisoners’ health can be monitored on a daily basis.
In the six months since the coronavirus took hold in Iran, Evin prison officials have given incarcerated people only two masks and two pairs of gloves each. Supplies have been made available for purchase at the prison store at the incarcerated people’ own expense.
On August 9, 2020, 12 of 17 incarcerated people tested in Ward 8, which houses political prisoners, were announced COVID-19-positive. Of these 12, Majid Azarpey, Amir Salar Davudi, and eight others began to show symptoms around August 2, at which time they were given nasal swab tests. The twelve were taken to Evin’s prison clinic, a facility used by other incarcerated people, raising concerns that the virus would spread there; a second COVID-19 test was then performed, the results of which were announced on August 11. Eight prisoners, including Amir Salar Davudi, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh, Saied Sharifi, and Reza Kianian, were confirmed positive and kept in the clinic. The four prisoners whose second test was negative were immediately returned to Ward 8, which caused additional anxiety for their wardmates. Esma'il Abadi, who suffers from asthma, was released on furlough on March 18 and returned to prison in May. His cellmate Ja’far Azimzadeh suffers from kidney and cardiovascular problems. Both tested positive the first time and negative the second time, but spent the interim period at the clinic with those who tested positive both times. Majid Azarpey, who also tested positive the second time, was sent on furlough soon after.
The authorities’ response to reports about infections among prisoners was a televised news report in which they denied it: during a state-sponsored TV news program, footage of Evin's Wards 4 and 8 showed what they claimed to be a disinfection tunnel, and prisoners with blurred faces stating that they had what they needed, and that no one was ill. The airing of the Evin visit on state TV triggered an immediate reaction from Ward 8’s political prisoners who noted, among other things, that Ward 4 held former officials convicted for corruption and embezzlement, including President Rouhani’s brother, who were in a position to improve their conditions. The images of Ward 8, they pointed out, were fuzzy, and only the Workers’ Hall (7) was shown, notably during hours that they were away from their rooms. The cameras never entered the overcrowded and filthy halls 8 and 9, where political prisoners are held. Moreover, no sources report having ever seen the purported disinfection tunnel.
In Qezelhesar Prison, located 20 km northwest of Tehran, it was reported in March that authorities ordered prisoners from several wards to take their belongings and go into the courtyards, apparently in an attempt to create the impression of a sparser prison population for COVID-19-related news news coverage. According to one source, in the early days of the pandemic, a benefactor provided hand disinfectants and masks for the Workers’ Ward. The ward, which is relatively less crowded, houses prisoners who work in various capacities and circulate inside the prison. Masks are not regularly distributed, but prisoners can buy masks at the prison store, if they can afford it. Prison authorities disinfect the ward’s walls, windows, and phones with a disinfectant diluted with water a couple of times per week. Prisoners were not tested for the virus, but thermometers were used every couple of weeks to take the incarcerated people’ temperatures. By early March, at least two people -- Basat Ali Khazaei and Gholamhossein Abolfava’i -- who were held with 500 prisoners convicted of drug offenses had been moved to quarantine in the health ward due to having been infected.
According to an ABC source, those showing symptoms in the early days of the pandemic were moved to the quarantine ward, where isolation protocols were initially inadequate. Later, the quarantine process became more organized. All newcomers are quarantined for 48 hours together, then moved to different rooms corresponding to their entry date for a 15-day quarantine. Sometime in June, newcomers were also tested for the virus with nasal swabs. Still, these prisoners are not fully isolated, as they share hallways and bathrooms with the general population. Only prisoners in critical condition have been taken out of prison for treatment.
On March 1st, 2020, authorities announced that 1,123 prisoners had been sent on furlough. On August 4, the Head of Tehran Province Prisons announced that 208 prisoners from Qezelhesar, who had less than six months to serve, were sent on leave.61 Nonetheless, systemic factors and the constant flow of new prisoners prevent proper de-crowding.
The hygiene situation in the political prisoners’ ward of Rajaishahr Prison has deteriorated since the outset of the pandemic in Iran. Disinfecting products are scarcer in Rajaishahr than they were at the start of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, prison authorities would distribute the following supplies every 50 to 60 days: one shampoo, one soap, one pair of underwear, and one toothpaste to each prisoner, as well as trash bags, dishwashing liquid, and washing powder to each ward. Prisoners now wait up to 120 days for their ration of personal hygiene supplies, which were hardly sufficient in normal circumstances, and while authorities continue to provide trash bags, dishwashing and hand washing products at the regular intervals, disinfecting chlorine is almost non-existent. In the political prisoners’ ward, there is no opportunity for prisoners to work. Those with fewer resources therefore have to save on food to buy personal hygiene products.
According to ABC’s source, prison authorities have not raised awareness about the coronavirus among incarcerated people, and the disinfection of the hallways, performed once or twice per week, is done with a product which can be mistaken for plain water. The source went on to say that Rajaishahr Prison’s initial no-new-entries pandemic policy did not take long to fade from practice: “The policy suddenly changed, and new prisoners were brought in, and those on furlough were brought back…”
Amid rumors of increasing infections, prison staff remain secretive about the virus’s spread. Anxious prisoners, in an attempt to shield themselves from contamination, avoid leaving the ward as much as possible. Prison authorities attribute inadequate supply of essential items to budgetary restrictions.
In early May, 2020, Hossein Negahdar (convicted of violent crimes according to HRANA) died in Rajaishahr Prison of an illness with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. Prison officials announced a stroke as the cause of death. On May 23rd, two incarcerated people were sent to hospitals outside prison. They both had been summoned back from furlough. In June, Iraj Hatami, a prisoner in the political prisoners’ ward who had previously shown coronavirus symptoms and was released on furlough, tested positive. This prisoner was sent on furlough in March, summoned back, and re-entered his ward after spending 14 days in quarantine. His wardmates include Arash Sadeqi, who has cancer, and Abolqasem Fuladvand, who suffers from a heart disease.
Karaj Central Prison (Karaj, Alborz Province)
In Karaj Central Prison (Karaj, Alborz Province), new arrivals must pass through two quarantines, the second of which lasts 15 days, before being transferred into the general population. Though many prisoners have benefited from prevention measures granting their early release, many wards are reportedly filled to at least two times their capacity. In normal times, some wards with less than 300 beds, 15 toilets, and six showers lodge 500 to 600 people and, at times, up to 900 inmates. It sometimes takes up to two years for newcomers to have a bed; they sleep on the floor in close quarters in the meantime. Limited early releases and furloughs, possible for about 70 of the 600 inmates in Ward 6 for example, have not resolved rampant overcrowding, and social distancing there is inconceivable.40 The mother of a prisoner serving time for an alleged drug offense told ABC in early March that her son is eligible for furlough, but that she cannot afford the high bail amount. Worried about the lack of food, poor hygiene, and rumors about two inmates dying from coronavirus, she said: “we are sitting here at home waiting to see when our child will die.”41
Hot water access is limited to one hour in some wards, while other wards get two hours. A small, low-quality piece of soap, a small shampoo, and two cups of washing powder — enough to last about two weeks — are distributed to inmates once every two to three months. According to one source, there are three doctors in the prison clinic taking turns working 24-hour shifts. Information about disease prevention and management consists of posters with instructions on handwashing on the wall behind the guards’ desk at the entrance of the ward. Prisoners can comply by washing their hands with dishwashing liquid available in the bathrooms. A source with knowledge of another ward reports that there is not enough soap for regular handwashing and that additional cleaning products have not been distributed, commenting, “they tell us to wash our hands regularly, but with what?”42
At Karaj Central, disinfectants are provided to prison staff only. About twice a week, wards, phones, and surfaces are sprayed with what is believed to be a mixture of water and alcohol. An ABC source reports that the guards have been altogether avoiding another ward which was disinfected only once in March. Prisoners who have circulated inside the prison, e.g. between wards and the clinic, as well as prisoners tasked with cleaning wards, administrative offices, and the overflowing sewer in the courtyard, are given masks and gloves when leaving their own ward. They then return to their ward with filthy clothes and, due to the limited number of showers, wait sometimes up to two hours before being able to shower and change.43
A suite of Room 15 in Building 1 has been sectioned off for prisoners believed to be infected with coronavirus. In Ward 6, the first inmate exhibiting a high fever and a cough — a man in his late 50s — was taken into the quarantine suite in late February. According to ABC’s source, the number of quarantined patients had risen to at least 35 by late March. Two of those taken to quarantine reportedly worked in the prison’s kitchen. According to ABC’s source, fear was apparent even among prison guards, several of whom asked for unpaid leave.44
Information on Kamyaran Prison, where overcrowding and lack of hygiene have been reported, is limited. In late June, however, inmate Rostam Qorbani was transferred to hospital after his condition rapidly deteriorated; he died from COVID-19 two weeks later on July 8, 2020.
At Sanandaj Prison incarcerated people are divided among 11 main wards and two quarantine sections. Wards 1 through 6, known as “Puyesh,” each designed to accommodate 35 prisoners, housed at least 41 at the time of this report; in all but one of these, incarcerated people are forced to sleep on the floor. In Ward 1, political prisoners are held alongside those convicted of murder. Qur’an Wards 1 and 2 each house between 110 and 170 people, many of whom also have no choice but to sleep on the floor. According to the media report covering the opening of the Quran Ward 9 years ago, the entire ward (sections 1 and 2 combined) was intended to hold no more than 170 incarcerated people.
Hygienic supplies and facilities are not available in Sanandaj, and incarcerated people have routinely been denied furloughs to which they were legally entitled. In August, the prison’s air conditioners were currently out of service, at a time of the summer when regional temperatures climb as high as 36.1 Celsius / 97 Fahrenheit. At the outset of the coronavirus crisis, Sanandaj Prison officials procured and distributed a number of masks; these were discontinued sometime later. As of early August, masks were not even available for purchase from the prison store, and officials, citing contamination concerns, did not allow prisoners to wear masks that their relatives had brought in for them. Wards are fumigated every ten days. Since the crisis began, referrals to medical facilities outside the prison have been stopped, even though the prison clinic has no eye specialists, dentists, or internists, with only one generalist physician available to provide care.
The poor control of infection in this facility can be seen in its isolation procedures. Quarantine Ward 1 had already been designated as a general quarantine ward prior to the coronavirus crisis; more recently, Quarantine Ward 2 was established for shorter-term isolation needs. Newly incarcerated people are isolated for 14 days before being transferred to the general population. As of August 2, 2020, incarcerated people with symptoms of COVID-19 infection were also being taken into a hall normally used for conjugal visits; three more incarcerated people showing COVID-19 symptoms were reportedly being held in the clinical isolation room in critical condition, and had not yet been transferred to hospitals. Due to a high number of suspect symptoms among the incarcerated people of Quran Ward 2, they, too, were placed under quarantine.
As before, incarcerated people at Sanandaj often leave prison grounds to go to courts and Prosecutor’s Offices. Soldiers and other escorts on such trips often fail to abide by preventative protocol and do not wear masks or gloves. Upon their return from these judicial appointments, incarcerated people are returned immediately to the general population, and are denied even hand sanitizer.
Ahvaz Central Prison (Sheiban, Khuzestan)
Ahvaz Central Prison (Sheiban, Khuzestan), formerly a detoxification center for drug users, is also overcrowded. Informed sources had reported in February 2019 that each room held up to 30 prisoners and inmates slept on the floor and had to wait in line for hours to use the restrooms. The lack of nutritious food and medical care in the prison had created a fertile ground for diseases.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the quarantine duration for newcomers was increased from one to two weeks. Prisoners are given a shirt and pants when they arrive, but there are very few cleaning products, forcing some prisoners to wash up with water only. Prisoners have been told to keep a one-meter distance from others and to disinfect their hands, but in practice this is not always possible. Quarantined prisoners crowd around five or six faucets for both dishwashing and personal hygiene. A number of masks were distributed on one occasion, but there are no gloves or any disinfecting products. Prisoners attempt to manage on their own with a mixture of water and bleach that they buy from the prison store. Prison authorities also pass through the prison every four or five days to spray disinfectant, but their cleanings are sporadic, and they use a product that lacks the alcohol smell of the product applied to the guards' quarters. The guards wear masks and gloves and do not enter the prisoners’ wards. Like those housed in other prisons, inmates at Ahvaz Central are tense and restless. In March, the review of furlough applicants was lagging due to the absence or limited work hours of relevant officials. Most prisoners were not eligible for temporary release.
In Ahvaz Central Prison (known also as Sheyban Prison), unrest broke out on March 31. Documents obtained by HRANA reveal that five incarcerated people were killed by anti-riot forces during the uprising and that prisoners involved are now being prosecuted for “disrupting public peace and order through pandemonium and commotion,” “causing the murder of four Muslim men,” “causing the murder of five prisoners,” “complicity in (also called "aiding and abetting") the commission of crimes,” “willful and intentional destruction and arson of public property,” and “disrupting public order.”
On July 16, 2020, HRANA reported the July 15 passing of inmate Saeed Heydari, who succumbed to the virus in Ahvaz’s Sepidar Prison. Heydari was 37 years old and had diabetes. He was arrested in 2019 for a physical altercation and was still awaiting trial. A source close to his family attributed his death to the lack of medical attention and general prison neglect.
Prisoners, including political prisoners, have taken ill in Behbahan Prison, among the Iranian provinces with the highest infection rate as of August 2020. HRANA reports that in late July and early August, at least 20 prisoners with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, including Mehran Qarabaghi, were moved from various wards into quarantine. One of the prisoners, who was too ill to walk, had to be carried by other prisoners in a blanket. It is also reported that, in a prison where incarcerated people cannot afford to buy masks, gloves, and disinfectants, the prison’s Director, known as “Shahbazi,” has placed severe restrictions on the granting of furloughs. Despite the pandemic, prisoners are taken to courts and back and prison officials do not properly enforce quarantines, sending newcomers and prisoners returning from furlough to wards.
A report from Borazjan Prison indicates that high infection rates and limited space have led authorities to house sick prisoners among the healthy. Two of Borazjan’s Kurdish prisoners, Reza Mollazadeh and Mozaffar Sekanvand, are among those infected. Prison officials are reported to have refused their transfer to the hospital due to the national security nature of their cases.
Esfahan Province Prisons
In Esfahan Province prisons, 11 incarcerated people were infected with coronavirus and in quarantine, and five more were hospitalized, according to the then Esfahan Prisons Head, Assadollah Gorjizadeh. In a July 13 interview, Gorjizadeh said that though prisons do not have the capacity to test all prisoners, they do test prisoners suspected of having contracted the virus. Gorjizadeh did not provide data on the number of deaths, stating only that “the [recent] deaths in Esfahan Province prisons were not all due to Corona[virus].”
West Azerbaijan Province
Orumieh Prison held 4,000 prisoners in October 2018: four times its capacity according to Mostafa Habibi, the Revolutionary Prosecutor of Orumieh. Prisoners in several wards have occasionally been denied hot water for a week and up to two months, even during the harsh Orumieh winter.
The Orumieh Prison Women’s ward is isolated: though there are cameras in all the rooms, the guards’ quarters are 10 minutes away, making it difficult to get their attention in an emergency. The Ward holds about 150-160 prisoners divided among four rooms, where about 40 inmates sleep on three-tiered bunk beds and make do with only two showers and two toilets. One of these rooms, Room 4, hosts prisoners suffering from addiction (the majority of women held in Orumieh, according to ABC’s source, are imprisoned for addiction or other drug-related charges). Food provided by the prisons is of particularly poor quality. The ward gets a doctor’s visit once a day between 11 a.m. and noon; a nurse and midwife are present in the examination room an hour before. The medical team is poorly equipped, and inmates rarely get a proper examination.
The women’s ward is also infested with fleas. Prison authorities do not provide soap and shampoo to prisoners. Those who cannot afford to pay for these products rely on the generosity of others or work for other inmates to afford to buy them. Prior to the COVID-19 spread, the prison did not provide dishwashing liquid to inmates. Following the announcement of the pandemic in February, every room is provided with one liter of dishwashing liquid per month; no additional liquid is provided if the rooms run out. There has been no change in the medical teams’ monitoring or presence in the ward in response to the pandemic, and prison authorities are not providing free soap or shampoo. Once a week, a strong mixture of chlorine and disinfectant is sloshed out of a watering can to clean the sanitary facilities. The judiciary’s February directive has not led to a significant number of releases at Orumieh. Prisoners already benefiting from weekend leaves have been asked to remain on leave and some older or sick prisoners are on furlough except those unable to afford their bail.
By and large, trends of viral spread among the general public are worse behind bars. Recent updates about the spread of the virus in the city of Orumieh, for example, raise concern about the conditions of the local prison. ABC reported in April 2020 about the lack of hygiene, insufficient cleaning products, and slapdash disinfection procedures in the women’s ward of Orumieh Prison, where one inmate had already died from COVID-19 that she contracted while detained there. As of the date of this report, the quarantine ward has been divided into three sections designated for new prisoners, those with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and infected prisoners returning from the hospital. The quarantine’s effectiveness is questionable, however, as these prisoners use the same courtyard and bathrooms as the general population. It is only after several staff members, including one of the prison’s doctors, were infected and hospitalized that guards started wearing masks; these infections also occasioned a strike on June 5 by nurses and clinic staff, who protested a lack of preventative measures at the prison.
As of April 13, infections were reported in many wards of Orumieh Prison and at least four prisoners were in Taleghani hospital in critical condition. It was reported that authorities had sent 50 prisoners from affected wards to the hospital for testing. By April 15, 2020, scores of Orumieh prisoners suspected of having been infected with the virus were either moved out of Ward 15 to external medical centers or transferred from Wards 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 14 to the quarantine ward (Band Pak). In mid May, prisoners from Wards 14 and 15 whose tests had come back negative were sent to the “Dormitory 3” ward. In late May, at least eight prisoners with symptoms including high fever and seizures were transferred to Taleghani Hospital, possibly from Wards 14 and 15. 800 incarcerated people had visited the prison clinic in a seven-day period. Dr. Kazemzadeh, the presiding clinic physician, refused entry to the clinic to new patients owing to scarce supplies and medication, and expressed concern for the danger an outbreak would pose given Orumieh’s high prison population, particularly of methadone users. By early June, at least four male prisoners -- Anvar Qorbanzadeh, Seifodin Bamradi, and Fariq Mohammadi, Hossein Javadi -- had died from COVID-19 in the prison. As of August 12, four women in Hall 1 of the women’s ward -- Mohebat Mahmoudi, Fatemeh Mirabi, Donya Piri, and Simin Seyyedi - - had contracted COVID-19. Rather than being transferred to a hospital for treatment, they were moved to a small room within the ward. Human rights sources report that prison authorities have used security concerns as a pretext for withholding furloughs, medical care, and hygienic supplies.
Information obtained on Orumieh Prison’s men’s wards indicates continued overcrowding and very few prevention measures. In a July 8, 2020 report, HRANA reported that incarcerated people are physically incapable of respecting social distancing in many wards. Four to five thousand people are held across 17 wards referred to as dormitories. Across dormitories 1 and 2, groups of 15 prisoners on average share 12-square-meter rooms, each furnished with only six beds. A total of 40 such rooms comprise the two dormitories, whose approximately 600 total incarcerated people must share four showers and four restrooms. While the approximately 270 prisoners of dormitories 3 and 4 have their own beds, they all bunk and live in the same common space, and must share only four restrooms and four showers. In dormitories 5 and 6, which hold almost three times as many prisoners (360 to 450) as they do beds (150), prisoners also share a common space. Prisoners convicted of drug-related offences, including simple use, are most commonly held in dormitories 5, 6, and 11. The incarcerated people of dormitory 15, which has 120 beds and holds between 300 and 350 prisoners, also suffer from dire overcrowding.
Dormitory 12 (or Band Pak), which has been converted to a quarantine space since the outbreak of COVID-19, holds up to 500 prisoners who each spend 14 days there before being released into general population. For unexposed, uninfected prisoners that have been deemed unruly, dormitory 12 has also served as a de facto detention quarters.
Though prisoners and prison staff did disinfect common spaces in the early weeks of the pandemic, such measures have all but ceased. Disinfecting products, rarely available in the prison’s store, are sold at several times market cost outside of prison. Industrial workshop operations, which stopped in the spring, resumed as normal at the end of May 2020. According to prisoners and human rights sources, water is intermittently cut off in the prisons; they also indicate that the nutritional value of food in Orumieh Prison has deteriorated significantly, and that prisoners who cannot afford to buy food from the store report going to bed hungry. Prospects of improvement are bleak: as one prisoner remarked, “There is neither budget nor plans.”
Bukan County Prison
Based on information provided to ABC on Bukan County Prison, in the early days of the pandemic every inmate was given a mask and a pair of gloves upon arrival. Now gloves and masks aren’t even available in the prison store. Disinfectants can only be found in the prison store at a considerable markup. Both newcomers and prisoners returning from court appointments are quarantined for a period of seven to ten days.
East Azerbaijan Province
Tabriz Prison, East Azerbaijan Province
Tabriz Prison was one of the penitentiaries where unrest was reported in late March. The prison has 14 wards and holds about 4000 of East Azerbaijan’s total prisoner population of nearly 7000. According to prison authorities, this results in a lack of space, and former prisoners confirm that social distancing is impossible due to extreme overcrowding. On July 12, 2020, the head of the Ministry of Justice office of East Azerbaijan stated that 54% of the province’s prison population had been granted leave, 23% of whom did not return to prison thanks to legal alternatives.91 Iranian officials announced that the percentage of newcomers in Tabriz prisons decreased 15% in the three months of spring. However, a source with knowledge of Tabriz Prison has told ABC that fear is prevalent among prisoners owing to the fact that prison authorities, after granting 30 to 40-day furloughs to a high number of prisoners at the outset of the outbreak, are now doing little in terms of virus prevention.
A source with knowledge of Tabriz Prison conditions described the hygiene situation as “catastrophic.” Newcomers are brought in without quarantine, and these individuals, coupled with those taken out and returned for court appointments, make for high turnover within wards, which has led to high rates of suspected COVID-19 infection. The juvenile ward, where several prisoners have reportedly died, and the women’s ward are in especially bad states due to lack of facilities, among other reasons. The wards housing individuals whose sentences have been finalized is relatively better due to their limited traffic to and from outside prison. Hygiene conditions in the “Seganeh” Ward are especially dire.
Quarantine durations have not changed since the start of the pandemic and prisoners are kept only two or three days before being sent to wards. Neither newcomers nor prisoners in contact with prisoners suspected of having been infected are tested. Prisoners have very limited access to the prison clinic: every ward is assigned a time one day of the week during which the ward’s prisoners may visit the clinic, and outside of these prescribed times, it seems that only those in critical condition are allowed in the clinic.
Prisoners suspected of being infected with the virus, those with symptoms, and those in critical condition have been taken out of wards and not returned. Prison officials have told prisoners who have inquired about the health of wardmates taken out of the wards that they have been granted furlough. Jaber Irandust, detained in Ward 11 of Tabriz Central Prison on charges of purchasing a stolen mobile phone since early March, died on or around March 27 after presenting COVID-19-like symptoms and being transferred to a hospital a few days before.
Adelabad Prison, Fars Province
Adelabad Prison in Shiraz has 14 regular wards for men convicted of various crimes, excluding drug crimes. Three of these wards are very large. Each of them comprise three 3- story buildings. Each floor has 20 rooms and holds 300 to 400 prisoners. Each room has three or four three-tier bunk beds and prisoners who do not have beds sleep on the floor, in the rooms and the hallways. Every ward has seven to eight bathrooms, each comprising a toilet and a shower. However, these facilities are unsanitary, not all the bathrooms are in service, and hot water is often lacking. The Sabz (Green) Ward has four halls and one of these halls, known as Ward 14 is holding political prisoners. Wards are disinfected daily by prisoners themselves. The Green Ward is better equipped and more comfortable than Adelabad’s other wards. It has daily access to the courtyard while most wards do not have regular and easy access to open air facilities for recreation and may be denied such access for weeks.
Adelabad’s water is not potable and prisoners have to buy bottled water at a high price or, for those without financial means, drink tap water after boiling it. The food’s quality is below standard and lacks protein (one chicken leg per week divided between three prisoners) and other necessary nutrients. It is eaten by people who have absolutely no other choice.
Prisoners are given one pair of underwear, one toothbrush, and a ration of toothpaste and shampoo. Adelabad’s store is small and stocked with a limited quantity of masks, sold at higher prices than outside market price. Masks, gloves, and disinfectants were not distributed to prisoners at the start of the pandemic. At Adelabad, incoming prisoners are held 14-21 days in a quarantine ward with a capacity of 50, in numbers which can reach 200. Prisoners are not segregated by day of arrival. The quarantine facility comprises two big rooms, each with 6-8 triple bunk beds and two phones.
Adelabad’s prison clinic is run by nurses. A generalist visits the prison weekly and sees a limited number of prisoners. Medication is scarce, and distributed to ward captains, who sell it to prisoners at high prices. Each hall is allotted two slots a week during which its occupants may visit the clinic; prisoners report many administrative obstacles to such visits. Prisoners suspected of COVID-19 infection are taken to quarantine; if symptoms worsen there, they are taken to the clinic, and in extreme cases to the hospital. One prisoner in need of hospitalization was on a waiting list for three months for a hospital transfer. Prisoners who spend more than three days in the hospital are quarantined upon return. Protocols for taking prisoners to and from court appointments have not changed in wake of the outbreak. Prisoners who refuse to go to court because of the pandemic are physically compelled to go.
A source with knowledge of Adelabad Prison reports many confirmed COVID-19 cases there stretching back to the early days of the virus’ spread. Prison officials, including the head prison guard officer -- who were in contact with prisoners daily -- tested positive, as did a number of prisoners themselves. All COVID-19 positive individuals were taken away from the prison. The source reports that the announcement of these test results, coupled with a lack of action on the part of officials, sparked prison unrest (on the night of March 29, as cited in ABC’s April 2020 report) which resulted in the wounding, including breaking of limbs, of a number of prisoners, as well as the forced transfer (exile) of some 700 prisoners to other facilities.
Shahid Lajevardi Prison in Farahabad, Mazandaran Province
ABC is also concerned about the conditions of lesser-known prisons such as the Shahid Lajevardi Prison in Farahabad, Mazandaran Province. Drug offenders, except those sentenced to death or life in prison, are held there. Many are treated with daily doses of methadone; illegal drug use is also common among inmates. The prison tap water is salty and filled with sand, forcing inmates — many of whom have little means — to spend their own money for access to clean water.
Hygiene at Shahid Lajevardi is also dreadful, according to a former inmate and an informed source interviewed by ABC. Inmates take showers twice a week. Three showers with very limited hot water are available per floor, and each floor houses more than 300 prisoners. One hall housing about 400 inmates is equipped with only five toilets and sinks, where inmates must clean both their bodies and the dishes they eat from. A recently-released inmate reported to ABC’s source that, following the judiciary’s directive, some prisoners with particularly poor health have been sent on furlough in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Prisoners have not been provided cleaning products or disinfectants, however the clinic reportedly disinfects wards for prisoners returning from group prayer at the mosque, where social distancing is not observed.
Parsilon Prison (Khorramabad, Lorestan Province)
In Parsilon Prison (Khorramabad, Lorestan Province), the infrastructure is outdated, and the sanitary facilities are so dirty that sources said they were reluctant to even set foot in the toilet area. Bathroom facilities there were renovated with prison labor using a patchwork of broken and uneven tile that collect dirt and debris; an area which once accommodated three toilets has been refashioned to fit six, in such a way that inmates must slide sideways into the cramped stalls, unavoidably coming into contact with dirty walls. During a surprise visit to Parsilon to follow up on COVID-19-related unrest there, Lorestan Judiciary Head Mohammad Raz acknowledged the prison's urgent need to update its infrastructure. There are fewer newcomers to Parsilon, and all fresh arrivals are quarantined, yet there is only one sanitary facility for all of those quarantined and none are given clean clothes. Every month, Parsilon prisoners are given a limited amount of soap, shampoo, and washing powder, but the quantities of these products have not changed in response to the COVID-19 crisis. While visitations have totally stopped, prison staff circulate imprudently from room to room, sometimes without masks. The product that is sprayed inside prison every other day has no scent, raising prisoners’ concerns of its efficacy as a cleaning agent. Prison authorities’ empty promises of release have exacerbated stress and tension among prisoners, according to an ABC source, in particular when news broke that only a small percentage of Parsilon’s estimated 2,000 prisoners were eligible for early release (about 50) or furlough (about 100). High bail amounts have prevented the release of many of those eligible. Following the escape on March 20, 2020 of 23 prisoners from a “training and work therapy camp” in Parsilon, the Lorestan Prison Organization acknowledged that none of the 200 inmates working in the camp are dangerous, and that all are being held for minor crimes with one-year convictions. It is unclear why these prisoners had not been released pursuant to the judiciary’s February circular.
Amirabad Prison (Gorgan County, Golestan Province)
The family member of an inmate at Amirabad Prison (Gorgan County, Golestan Province) reports that new prisoners have been introduced into the population amid the pandemic despite a lack of preventative supplies like masks, gloves, and disinfectant at the facility. Two individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms were released into the prison’s prayer room in close proximity to other prisoners, rather than being transferred to hospitals and given appropriate medical care.
Ilam Prison (Ilam Province)
In Ilam Prison (Ilam Province), social distancing is not an option. The Salamat ward (Ward 1) holds about 40 people, with one shower and two toilets to be shared by them all. Ward 2 has about 40 beds to sleep 130 inmates who double up on single mattresses or sleep on the floor. Prison authorities did not appear to take the pandemic’s hazards seriously. The process of releasing prisoners has been extremely slow. Though some prisoners with lighter sentences have been released, many of those prisoners eligible for leave are still in prison due in part to the absence of relevant officials. No effort has been made to raise awareness among prisoners about the coronavirus, and as of mid-March, guards were not wearing masks or gloves when circulating among the wards.
Hygiene at Ilam Prison is substandard. Though prisoners have access to hot water, limited quantities of soap are provided for handwashing and general cleaning needs. Inmates who cannot afford their own soap sometimes have no choice but to rinse their hands with water only. Prison authorities have not provided additional soap or disinfecting products to help protect inmates against the new viral threat. In the past several weeks, ABC’s source has seen only one instance of a chlorine-smelling disinfectant mixture being sprayed in the wards and between beds. There is no visible monitoring of prisoner health from prison guards or medical staff, and many prisoners eligible for furlough are still in prison reportedly due to the absence of relevant personnel to process their releases.
Langarud Prison in the city of Qom, the epicenter of COVID-19, is notorious for its lack of hygiene. “Food and cleanliness are below zero,” explained a former inmate. Lice infections are routine, and many inmates opt to sleep on the floor to distance themselves from bed bugs. Wards 1 and 5, with 500 prisoners each, are so crowded that people had to sleep in the courtyard through the fall. In one instance, prisoners had to go on strike and stop eating to convince officials to provide a couple of canisters of bug spray for their rooms. The only relatively clean ward is the Quran Ward, where most beds are deemed fit to be slept on. To get access to the Ward, however, prisoners have to commit to memorizing passages from the Quran. Prison authorities grant credits for participating in mass prayers that can be exchanged for advantages like in-person visitations. Prisoners who do not participate in prayers may see their phone or water privileges cut off as punishment.
Following the public announcement of the COVID-19 emergency, the aforementioned posters indicated to Langarud prisoners how to wash their hands. At that time there was enough soap for handwashing, and guards were given masks and gloves. Several guards who circulated among prisoners were reportedly infected and disappeared from the prison without further explanation. In one ward, door handles and windows were disinfected with a liquid that smelled like dishwashing soap just once every three days. An official with the Qom Province Relief Committee declared on March 30 that 3,000 care packages containing masks, hand sanitizer, and a cleaning agent were to be distributed to prisoners.