Amid Coronavirus Outbreak Political Prisoners Should be Granted Furlough, Say Relatives
Grave Concerns About the Spread of COVID-19 in Iranian Prisons
Relatives of prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in Iran after publicly calling on the supreme leader to resign have called on Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi to allow their loved ones to go on furlough (temporary leave) to protect them from contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus.
“Given the very worrying news about the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s prisons, we the families of 14 political prisoners held in Mashhad, Tehran and Kashan prisons, who petitioned [for Ali Khamenei’s resignation], call on the state to release them or grant them furlough, especially the women prisoners, as soon as possible to prevent a great humanitarian catastrophe,” said an open letter signed by “some of the families” that was published online on February 24, 2020.
The families also called on officials “to put all prisons under quarantine in order to stop the spread of this dangerous disease among the prisoners.”
To date, Iranian officials have not commented on unconfirmed reports that prisoners in three prisons around the country have contracted the virus that’s officially called COVID-19.
The families’ letter was published online after the wives of two of the imprisoned dissidents informed the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that they were extremely concerned about their husbands who had fallen ill in state custody.
Prisoner of conscience Mohammad Nourizad was in serious condition after going on a long hunger strike to protest his unjust incarceration in the Iranian city of Mashhad, his wife told CHRI on February 17. The wife of fellow prisoner of conscience Hashem Khastar told CHRI that her husband was also ill.
Both men were imprisoned in August 2019 after signing an open letter published online in June 2019 along with 12 other dissidents calling on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to resign.
Nourizad has been banned from receiving visitors or making phone calls since being transferred from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Mashhad to the city’s Vakilabad Prison on February 12.
“He was not feeling well at all when we visited him on Sunday, February 9,” his wife Fatemeh Maleki told CHRI. “He was not feeling well during previous visits either but this time he told us his condition could get worse at any moment. He was not talking normally.”
Maleki added that her husband almost fainted during their last visit and was carried away by intelligence agents:
“I was there with his mother, my daughter and my son, who had recently been released from prison. Mr. Nourizad told us, ‘I have made my decision. I will throw my corpse at these people [Iranian officials].’ Ten minutes later he hunched over and almost fell on the floor. We caught him from falling and the intelligence agents took him away.”
Nourizad has been imprisoned since August 11, 2020.
After a preliminary trial earlier this month, the filmmaker and activist was sentenced to 15 years in prison, three years in exile in the city of Izeh, Khuzestan Province, and banned from traveling abroad after being convicted of the charges “forming an illegal organization” against the country’s security and “propaganda against the state.”
“He refused food and medicines for three months,” his wife told CHRI. “He has broken his hunger strike but is still refusing medications. He’s not taking his pills for sugar and heart problems. As a result, he loses consciousness and passes out. He wants to be free. He says, ‘I haven’t committed a crime or anything to be in prison.’”
Maleki added: “Our visits took place in a safe location that looked like a normal house. They would bring Mr. Nourizad from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center and I would see him. When he got sick and they took him away, I shouted, ‘You have to free him. He needs to be under [medical] observation.’”
Nourzad’s attorney Mohammad Hossein Aghasi has also expressed concern for his client’s health.
“Mr. Nourizad is not consenting to pleas by friends and relatives and me to stop refusing medications so now he is passing out more frequently and there are fears we could lose him. I asked the court to release him on bail and the bail was set but the authorities are refusing to accept it,” Aghasi tweeted on February 7.
CHRI has learned that a fellow prisoner of conscience Hashem Khastar, who signed the same letter as Nourizad, is also in poor physical health.
“Mr. Khastar, who was in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Mashhad for seven months, has become very weak but he’s well mentally,” his wife Sedigheh Maleki told CHRI.
“They sentenced him to 16 years in prison and three years in exile in Nikshahr [Sistan and Baluchistan Province] and banned him from traveling abroad for three years,” she added. “During our last visit he told us, ‘We haven’t done anything wrong.’ He rejected the verdict.”
She continued: “The first charge against him is related to the letter signed [against Khamenei] and they accused him of forming a group [against the state] for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. They also sentenced him to one year in prison for propaganda against the state and 10 years for a channel created outside the country in his name on Telegram [messaging app].
Sedigheh Maleki added: “Intelligence agents have taken away all our phones and tablets and therefore we have no access to this channel. Mr. Khastar has no managerial role or contacts with this channel. He is in prison. Still, they sentenced him to 10 years in prison for this. My only wish is that all freedom-seekers in the world would voice support for us.”
Khastar has been banned from receiving visitors or making phone calls since being moved to Vakilabad Prison from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center on February 12.
Read this article in Persian.