Iranian prisoners ‘left to die after pleas for medical help ignored’

Report by Amnesty International reveals deaths following neglect of prisoners across the country

A female prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl

Iranian prison staff are responsible for the deaths of inmates by refusing them medicine and emergency hospital treatment, a report has found.

An examination of 96 deaths in custody found some inmates died without proper care after beatings behind bars while others were transferred to solitary confinement despite being critically ill.

The report, by rights group Amnesty International, found two-thirds of the deaths were inside prison with inmates accused of “faking” their illnesses and refusing hospital treatment.

At least 26 of the others died during transfer to hospital or shortly after being admitted following deliberate delays that proved fatal, the report said.

The report - In death’s waiting room: Deaths in custody following deliberate denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons - highlighted the case of a 19 year old who died from blood clots on his brain after sustained beating during his arrest and interrogation two years earlier.

Abdolvahed Gomshadzehi made multiple requests for treatment but was turned down by authorities at a prison in Zahedan, east Iran, before he died in May 2016. Doctors said he needed to be taken to hospital.

“The Iranian authorities’ chilling disregard for human life has effectively turned Iran’s prisons into a waiting room of death for ill prisoners, where treatable conditions tragically become fatal,” said Diana Eltahawy, of Amnesty International.

The group said the authorities refused to carry out proper inquiries into anyone who died after being denied medical care and failed to ensure that anyone was punished for prisoner abuse.

The National has reported a series of cases where medical care has been denied to inmates. They included the case of Baktash Abtin, a jailed poet and free speech campaigner, who died in January in an induced coma while suffering from Covid-19 after his transfer to hospital was delayed.

His supporters accused Iran of contributing to his death. His existing health problems meant the 48 year old was given an “effective death sentence” when he was jailed for six years on national security charges last year, said free speech campaign group PEN America.

One of the oldest prisoners at Evin jail, in Tehran, Shokrollah Jebeli, 83, died last month after authorities ignored medical advice during months of declining health, according to his family and rights groups.

He was returned to jail against medical advice following hospital treatment on the same day that he had a stroke. He had been held in an overcrowded and insect-infested cell with about 19 inmates and had to sleep on a mattress on the floor.

His failing health meant he relied on other prisoners to help him perform basic daily tasks, Amnesty said. But prosecutors said he would only be released on health grounds if his family paid $290,000, according to the group.

The Amnesty report focused on the deaths of 92 men and four women in 30 prisons in 18 provinces across Iran since January 2010. Twenty of the deaths were of so-called security prisoners who were charged with political offences.

Shokrollah Jebeli died at Evin prison after prosecutors demanded money for his release on medical grounds. Supplied

The group has called on the United Nations to collect and preserve evidence of crimes under international law for future prosecutions.

It said prison clinics were poorly-equipped and under-staffed. Staff frequently denied prisoners proper treatment including tests, check-ups and proper care after operations.

The wife of Ahmadreza Djalali told The National her husband, a Swedish-Iranian expert in disaster medicine, was returned to Evin jail just a night after undergoing abdominal surgery and while he was suffering from severe pain and bleeding.

He went to the prison clinic where pharmacy staff withheld his medicine despite protests by Mr Djalali.

“They became mad and one of them attacked Ahmadreza,” said his wife Vida Mehrannia. “Fortunately, plenty of prisoners were there and saved Ahmadreza from being injured. Just a few punches to his chest.”

Mr Djalali, who is on death row after being accused of spying for Israel, has a series of health problems and suffered dramatic weight loss. The UN says he is being unfairly detained and has called for his release.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 12:23 PM