Iran Must Act Now to Protect Prisoners From Deadly COVID-19
February 27, 2020
Yazd Prison. Photo from Microphone News.
As the deadly coronavirus COVID-19 spreads in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with at least 19 deaths and 139 cases of the infection confirmed by officials as of Wednesday, February 26, 2020  or much higher according to a recent medical study , prisoners are particularly at risk. Prison conditions in Iran are substandard. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, lack of proper ventilation, insufficient provision of means for maintaining personal hygiene, lack of access to clean drinking water, and poor nutrition facilitate the spread of diseases. Over the years, Human rights groups including Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), have reported on unsanitary prison conditions. Iranian officials have also acknowledged prison overcrowding, but improvements are yet to come and in most prisons, prisoners remain particularly vulnerable to contagious diseases. ABC fears that without effective measures by Iranian authorities, COVID-19 will spread severely among Iranian prisoners. Already 500 cases of infected prisoners have been reported in China .
Iran does not allow human rights monitors access to prisons. However, reports from Iranian prisons and the testimonies of former prisoners are consistent with regards to the deplorable health conditions in prisons across the country.
In her report published in March 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran pointed to consistent reports “describing inadequate accommodation; imprisonment in cramped cells; inadequate provision of food and water; unhygienic conditions; and restricted access to toilet facilities.” She also reported on prisoners having been denied medical care .
Iranian officials have acknowledged the problem over the years. A number of MPs have attested to the overpopulation of prisons and the overall increase in the number of prisoners across the country in 2018 . In August 2019, before the mass arrest of the November protesters, the head of Iran’s Prison Organization declared the prison population was twice that of prison capacity . 1,100 in Tehran alone, in three days, 270 petty dealers and 900 drug users were arrested according to the Police Chief . According to testimony obtained from an inmate on November 26, 2019, over 1,000 protesters, including injured ones, were transferred to the Greater Tehran Prison . Over 6,000 protesters were arrested in connection with the November 2019 protests, based on data collected by ABC . Mass incarceration of drug offenders and protesters, as well as debt- and involuntary crimes and accident-related imprisonment[ 14] have exacerbated the already precarious prison conditions.
 Statement by the Ministry of Health Public Relations’ Office (https://www.irna.ir/news/83691964/%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%AA-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%86%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D9%87-%DB%B1%DB%B9-%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%AF)