CHRI —The death of prisoner of conscience Behnam Mahjoubi, who died on February 21, 2021, after untreated medical conditions that included serious neurological issues, reflects the continued crisis in Iran’s prisons, where prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, are denied proper medical treatment.
“Many prisoners in Iran are in desperate need of medical treatment and more will die without immediate care,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Governments worldwide should condemn Iran’s practice of denying medical care to prisoners as the torture and effective extrajudicial murder of prisoners that it represents,” Ghaemi added.
CHRI strongly urges Iranian lawmakers and the Rouhani administration to hold judicial and prison authorities accountable for denying prisoners healthcare. It also calls on the international community to forcefully speak with one voice in condemnation of Iran’s unlawful and inhuman practice of systematically denying medical care to prisoners.
Mahjoubi, a member of Iran’s persecuted Sufi Gonabadi Order, had been serving a two-year sentence on trumped up national security charges since June 2020, even though Iran’s State Medical Examiner had concluded he could not withstand incarceration. He was transferred from Evin Prison to Tehran’s Loghman Hospital on February 13, 2021, after suffering seizures, and died eight days later.
The head of the Medical Examiner’s Office in Tehran, Mehdi Forouzesh, said in a statement that the results of an autopsy carried out on Mahjoubi’s body will “subsequently be submitted to judicial authorities.”
The UN has called for “a full and transparent investigation” into Mahjoubi’s death, stating “His death is another reminder of how adequate medical treatment is repeatedly denied to detainees.”
Political Prisoners in Dire Need of Medical Treatment
Many other prisoners have either become critically ill or suffer from longstanding and serious medical conditions that have been left untreated in Iran’s prisons.
In a letter from Rajaee-Shahr Prison in Karaj to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, dated February 3, 2021, political prisoner Arash Sadeghi noted a number of fellow political prisoners who have been denied medical treatment, including:
Raheleh Ahmadi: An opponent of compulsory hijab, Ahmadi is serving a 31-month sentence in in Evin Prison, where she suffers from mobility issues; her lawyer and medical specialists say there’s a possibility she could become paralyzed.
Motalleb Ahmadian: Ahmadian is serving a 30-year prison sentence for membership in an organization opposed to the Islamic Republic. Held in Rajaee-Shahr Prison in Karaj, he suffers from a spinal injury and a blood clot in his testicles due to being beaten.
Soheil Arabi: In Rajaee-Shahr Prison serving multiple prison sentences since 2013 in connection with his social media posts and protests inside prison, he suffers from a blood clot in his testicles resulting from beatings and an untreated broken bone.
Monireh Arabshahi: Serving 5.5 years in prison in Kachuei Prison in Karaj for peacefully protesting compulsory hijab, she suffers from an inflamed thyroid gland that has led to a speech impairment.
Afshin Baymani: Sentenced to life in prison on the charge of cooperating with the banned Mohajedin Khalgh Organization (MEK), he is being held in Rajaee-Shahr Prison in Karaj, where he suffers from heart disease.
Atena Daemi: As the civil rights activist neared her July 4, 2020 release date, she was sentenced to an additional 3.7 years in prison. She has suffered multiple untreated illnesses since her arrest and currently has a lump in the chest area.
Abolghasem Fouladvand: Serving a 15-year prison sentence in Rajaee-Shahr Prison in Karaj for supporting the banned Mojahedin Khalgh Organization (MEK), he suffers from heart disease.
Zeynab Jalalian: Serving a life sentence for alleged membership in a banned Kurdish separatist organization, she is currently in prison in Yazd, southeast Iran, suffering eye complications.
Hashem Khastar: The teacher and civil rights activist was sentenced in February 2020 to 16 years in prison after signing a letter calling for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down. He suffers from heart disease.
Saeed Masouri: A physician who has been sentenced to life in prison for alleged membership in the banned Mojahedin Khalgh Organization (MEK), Masouri suffers from bleeding and urinary tract issues.
Mehdi Meskin-Navaz: Serving a 7.5-year prison sentence in connection with managing a news channel on the Telegram messaging app, the journalist suffers from spinal and leg bone complications.
Samaneh Norouz-Moradi: Held in Lakan Prison in Rasht, Gilan province, since October 21, 2020, Norouz-Moradi suffers from articular lupus, diabetes and possible breast cancer.
Fatemeh Mosanna: Serving a 15-year sentence for organizing a mourning ceremony for her father-in-law who is a member of the banned Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group, she suffers from severe colitis; prison doctor and specialist physician have declared her unfit for incarceration.
Mohammad Nourizad: The filmmaker and dissident, imprisoned in 2019 after signing a letter calling on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s resignation, underwent an operation to remove his gallbladder in December 2020. Due to serve at least 10 years in prison for multiple convictions on national security charges, he suffers from heart disease.
Arash Sadeghi: Since June 2016, Sadeghi has been serving a 15-year prison sentence for engaging in peaceful civil rights activism. He has been denied full medical treatment for a rare form of bone cancer that he has suffered since 2019.
Hamzeh Savari: Arrested in 2015, he has been sentenced to life in prison on the charge of waging war against the state. Held at Rajaee Shahr Prison, he suffers from a tumor in his right knee.
In addition to the above individuals, CHRI is aware of the following cases, including internationally renowned human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh:
Ghasem Abasteh: The Kurdish political prisoner is on death row for membership in an extremist Sunni Muslim group. Held in Rajaee-Shahr Prison, he suffers from a tumor in his stomach, severe kidney problems and arthritis of the neck.
Esmail Abdi: Teachers’ rights activist Esmail Abdi, serving a six-year prison sentence and now facing additional years from a decade-old suspended sentence, contracted COVID-19 and has pre-existing conditions that include asthma and high blood pressure that significantly raise his risk of complications in prison.
Reza Taleshian Jelodarzadeh: Serving a three-year sentence in Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary (GTCP) since January 2021, the journalist has been denied medications for seizures which have caused serious eye complications.
Khaled Pirzadeh: Serving a five-year prison sentence for “assembly and collusion against national security,” Pirzadeh is held in GTCP, where he suffers from untreated heart complications and problems with his back and knees.
Sam Rajabi: The imprisoned wildlife conservationist contracted COVID-19 during a “short” hospital visit but was reportedly denied treatment there and returned to Evin prison, and then underwent an operation on his digestive system in May 2020 in a hospital in Tehran, and was returned to prison after three weeks. Rajabi suffers asthma, circulatory issues and intestinal problems.
Nasrin Sotoudeh: The human rights lawyer has been imprisoned in Iran since 2018 despite serious medical issues including cardiac and pulmonary issues that required hospitalization.
Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care. The UN has expressed serious concerns over Iran’s continued denial of appropriate healthcare to detainees, which violates the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Iran’s State Prison Regulations (Article 118) state, “Examination, and when necessary treatment, of sick convicts is the responsibility of the prison or training facility.”
Iran’s Prisons Are Breeding Grounds for Medical Illnesses
The denial of proper medical treatment is not the only urgent health problem faced by Iran’s prisoners. In addition, all prisoners, and especially inmates of prisons in Iran’s more remote regions are:
- Subjected to physical and psychological torture.
- Often not separated from violent or otherwise dangerous prisoners.
- Incarcerated in overcrowded and unhygienic prisons.
- Inadequately protected from COVID-19 in prisons, where there is scant testing of prisoners or separation of ill prisoners or new prisoners who have not been quarantined.