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Concerns for Christians after coronavirus outbreak at Evin Prison

Concerns for Christians after coronavirus outbreak at Evin Prison

Left to right: Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee, Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi, and Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh.

There are concerns over the health of four Christian prisoners of conscience after one of them tested positive for Covid-19 while the three others are all displaying symptoms.

Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh was one of 12 prisoners in Ward 8 of Tehran’s Evin Prison to test positive during a random test of 17 of the ward’s approximately 60 prisoners yesterday.

Fellow Christian prisoners of conscience Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh were not among those tested, but they are all displaying symptoms.

Nasser’s friends and family are particularly concerned about him, as he recently turned 59 years old and remains in his crowded cell despite being laid low with fever for nearly a week. The only medical assistance he has received is a few painkillers.

The fifth Christian prisoner in Ward 8, Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi, has so far shown no symptoms, though he remains in the ward despite already serving the entirety of his recently reduced sentence. 

A further 10 Christian prisoners of conscience are being held in other wards of the notorious prison, though as yet there are no reports that any of them are unwell, although there are unconfirmed reports of infections and even a death in another Evin ward.

The approximately 60 prisoners in Ward 8 sleep on bunk beds in rooms containing around 12-15 prisoners each, but all the prisoners mingle together; there are no social distancing rules. Indeed, when the ward is overcrowded, some prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor.

Yesterday, over two dozen Ward 8 prisoners staged a sit-in to draw attention to the growing crisis there, inadequate medical care and insufficient protection measures.

At the height of the pandemic in March, Iran released some 100,000 prisoners – among them six Christians – amidst fears that its overcrowded prisons could provide a hotbed for the virus to spread.

But just five months on, the prisons are overcrowded again, and there are now more Christian prisoners of conscience than before the pandemic.