Rights Attorneys Call for Release of All Eligible Prisoners: “Tomorrow Will be Too Late”
As inmates in Iran continue to be killed or injured in “prison disturbances” amid the country’s devastating COVID-19 outbreak, two defense attorneys in Tehran have joined the growing chorus of domestic and international voices that has been calling on Iranian authorities to release all eligible prisoners before it’s too late.
The following statement was written by lawyers Arash Keykhosravi and Saeid Dehghan, who’ve both represented political prisoners. Most recently, Keykhosravi represented the family of Kavous Seyed-Emami, an Iranian-Canadian sociologist and conservationist who died in Iranian state custody two weeks after being taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison, and Dehghan currently represents Iranian-born French academic Fariba Adelkhah, who remains in Evin Prison.
The emergence of an extraordinary situation brought on by the first example of common global suffering caused by the coronavirus crisis has naturally given rise to the need for equally extraordinary and urgent decisions and actions.
The cause for greater concern in detention centers and prisons at this point is the incarceration of prisoners in confined spaces, which in the current crisis can be considered additional punishment. From this perspective, the unrest in some prisons and the serious concerns of the prisoners’ families can be better understood.
Recent measures and decrees issued by the judiciary were necessary for the current state of emergency but certainly insufficient for alleviating the serious harm and devastation from this contagious disease. What is certain:
First, prison enclosures do not provide a secure environment for inmates, or even prison staff, facing this virus.
Second, the contagious coronavirus disease is not a factional dispute or threat against one particular party, organization, ideology or country.
Third, contagious diseases such as the coronavirus cannot distinguish between convicts or detainees and the length of their terms of incarceration.
Fourth, in all legal discourses regarding human rights, the “right to life” is paramount.
Fifth, the absolute responsibility for protecting the health of people behind bars, including prisoners and detainees, rests with the state.
Therefore, in sympathy with the families of (imprisoned) lawyers, teachers, journalists, writers, workers, human rights defenders, critics, conservationists, students, protesters… dervishes, opponents of compulsory hijab and all those whose voices have not been properly heard; and with an understanding of the prisoners’ harsh conditions and existing realities… we hope to see comprehensive, extraordinary, appropriate and urgent decisions and actions that would result in only dangerous convicts remaining in prisons under appropriate standards.
Tomorrow will be too late.
“As you see in Iran and some other countries, we are seeing riots, prisoners who are afraid, who are distressed at the big loss of contact from family members and so on. So there are many, many issues surrounding this,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a virtual briefing in Geneva on April 3.
To learn more about what authorities should do to protect prison populations from contracting COVID-19, see this recent joint-guidance by the World Health Organization and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.