News

‘Immediately release prisoners of conscience to prevent humanitarian disaster’

‘Immediately release prisoners of conscience to prevent humanitarian disaster’

The Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam) has called on Iran to immediately release all prisoners of conscience to “prevent a serious humanitarian disaster”.

In a statement released yesterday, the council welcomed the reported release of around 100,000 prisoners, including seven Christians, but noted that many others remain in prison, including at least 11 Christians, serving sentences based only on their “peaceful beliefs and activities”.

“The responsibility for the health of these prisoners lies with the authorities of the Islamic Republic, and the immediate release of prisoners can prevent a serious humanitarian disaster,” they wrote.

The council also called on prison authorities to ensure all prisoners have access to the medical facilities they need.

“The continued prevalence of coronavirus in prisons and the lack of access to adequate health and medical facilities threaten the lives and health of many Iranian citizens, including Christian converts, and worry many families,” they wrote.

Their statement follows that of a group of UN experts, who on Friday noted that “most” prisoners of conscience remain detained.

An eyewitness recently told Article18 about the dire conditions in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where the 11 Christian converts – Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh, Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Behnam Akhlaghi, and Majidreza Souzanchi – are still detained.

“The health situation in that prison is very bad,” the eyewitness told Article18. “The prisoners only have water with which to wash their hands. The prison officials don’t even give them masks or antibacterial gel.

“Many prisoners’ requests for leave from prison have not been approved, and they’ve also been told that the prison officials won’t be able to quarantine prisoners who return for 14 days.”

Some human rights activists and family members of detainees have claimed the government is using the virus to put further pressure on prisoners. The families of some prisoners have sent letters to the judiciary, demanding the release of their loved ones, while imprisoned human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh has gone on hunger strike to protest their continued detention.

The latest official figures from the Iranian Ministry of Health record over 83,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 5,200 deaths, but the true figures are believed to be considerably higher.

Health professionals in various cities have expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of suitable protective equipment. At least 1,600 doctors have contracted the virus, and 110 have died.

Hamgaam’s statement concludes with a word of thanks to them: “We are very grateful to the medical professionals, including doctors and nurses who have sacrificed their lives to save the lives of their patients, and we pray for them, the patients and the families of the victims.”