Plea to UN to Demand Freedom for Gravely Ill Sepideh Qoliyan
March 10, 2022 – Two months after two political prisoners died in Iranian state custody, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has sent a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urging her to call for the immediate release of prisoner of conscience Sepideh Qoliyan, who is gravely ill and in need of urgent medical care.
Qoliyan, 27, is being unlawfully kept behind bars in Tehran’s Evin Prison for her peaceful dissent despite stipulations in Iranian law that allow for her release.
“The UN high commissioner should call for Sepideh Qoliyan’s immediate release before another prisoner of conscience is silenced forever in an Iranian prison,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
Qoliyan is among a group of ailing political prisoners who are currently being denied proper medical treatment, including Soheila Hejab, Zeinab Jalalian, Arsham (Mahmoud) Rezaee, and Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi. Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care, as a means to punish and silence dissent.
Following is the full text of CHRI’s letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
March 9, 2022
H.E. Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dear Madam High Commissioner,
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s denial of critically needed medical care to the unjustly imprisoned activist and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan represents an egregious human rights violation and poses a potential threat to her life and well-being.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran respectfully requests the high commissioner to forcefully condemn the denial of medical treatment for Ms. Qoliyan and to call upon the Iranian authorities to immediately release her from Evin Prison so that she may receive proper care in a hospital.
We wish to note that Iranian law provides for such a release; Article 502 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that a prisoner’s sentence can be suspended if incarceration could make his or her physical or mental illness worse.
We hope the high commissioner will urge other human rights bodies and experts, such as the Human Rights Council, the special rapporteur for human rights in Iran and other relevant special procedures, as well as all Member States, to join in this condemnation of Ms. Qoliyan’s treatment and call for her immediate release.
The denial of medical care is routinely used by the Islamic Republic as a means of punishment for political prisoners, and as such this practice should be explicitly and forcefully condemned. This is especially so during the current pandemic, where multiple political prisoners have died in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons due to COVID-19. Most recently, the arbitrarily detained poet Baktash Abtin died after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison.
Without concerted pressure by the international community, the Islamic Republic will continue to criminalize and punish peaceful dissent, and the authorities’ life-threatening actions towards Sepideh Qoliyan and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience that include the denial of critical medical care will continue as well.
Ms. Qoliyan’s case follows an entrenched pattern in the Islamic Republic of prosecution of human rights defenders without due process, the imposition of lengthy prison sentences, and harsh, even life-threatening treatment for political prisoners once imprisoned.
Initially arrested in November 2018 in Shush, southwest Iran, for her participation in a strike by sugar mill workers, Ms. Qoliyan has been outspoken inside and outside prison about the torture she and fellow detainees were subjected to while in detention. She was among nine labor activists who were each sentenced to five years in prison in December 2019, on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.”
She began serving her five-year sentence in June 2020, in Evin Prison, after refusing to sign a letter of apology to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In March 2021, she was banished to the Central Prison in Bushehr on Iran’s southern coast.
In September 2021, while on furlough, she was charged with “publishing falsehoods online” and “propaganda against the state,” after publishing a series of tweets describing inhumane conditions in Bushehr’s Central Prison. She was detained during a raid by the security forces on her family home in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, on October 11, 2021, and on October 15, 2021, transferred back to Evin Prison and held in Ward 209, controlled by the Intelligence Ministry.
During her imprisonment, she has been on hunger strike several times to protest her unjust prosecution and inhumane prison conditions, and, like many other political prisoners, subsequently contacted COVID-19 in Iran’s overcrowded, unhygienic prisons.
On February 22, 2022, it was reported she has been moved to the quarantine unit in Evin Prison with severe stomach bleeding, kidney pain, diarrhea, nausea and a high fever and continues to be denied medical furlough so that she can receive proper treatment outside the prison. Her brother, Mehdi Qoliyan (also spelled Gholiyan), wrote on Instagram on March 6, 2022:
“My sister Sepideh Qoliyan’s life is still in danger. After the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, Sepideh contracted the virus…Sepideh’s body has become so weak and fragile from underlying untreated diseases caused by banishments [to different prisons], hunger strikes and constant pressures, that even a cold can overwhelm her. Because of the impact of the Omicron variant, Sepideh’s body cannot absorb much water or food due to indigestion; she vomits everything. Her temperature has not returned to normal. Her weakness, lethargy, and jaundice are visible…the case judge, who previously claimed that Sepideh was not entitled to furlough and had crossed ‘red lines,’ finally agreed to sign the leave form, yet she remains imprisoned.”
Her brother believes she is being treated this way because she spoke out against prison conditions and the torture and harassment of women in Bushehr prison.
Ms. Qoliyan is among the many human rights defenders who have been imprisoned in Iran for peacefully expressing their views. The silencing of peaceful dissent and the denial of freedom of expression are the autocrats’ weapons of choice; in this manner, individuals are forced to pay a terrible price for their willingness to speak truth to power and to challenge repressive state narratives. Speaking out against this injustice is fundamental to the defense of the rule of law, which underpins a peaceful international order.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran