UN experts call for new Iran prison releases

Political, foreign and dual national inmates should be freed, says UN group

A guard stands on a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison. Reuters
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UN human rights experts on Friday called for the release of all political and foreign prisoners in Iran to avert the serious risk of infection with Covid-19.

Iran has temporarily released an estimated 100,000 inmates since late February but most human rights campaigners, dual nationals and foreign prisoners remain imprisoned during a crisis that has seen a person die in the country every ten minutes.

“Some are at great risk from COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions,” the experts said in a statement by the UN human rights body. “We call on the authorities to immediately release them.”

The experts highlighted the plight of a group of human rights lawyers, inmates aged over 60 and those with health problems.

They included Iranian-Swedish dual national Ahmadreza Djalali, a renowned expert in disaster medicine, and two Iranian-Austrian dual nationals, Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb.

“The immediate release by the Iranian judiciary of these individuals and other prisoners of conscience could save their lives,” they said.

Concerns were also raised about the case of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been on hunger strike for a month in protest over the non-release of prisoners of conscience.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, wrote on Facebook that visiting families had gathered in crowded meeting areas at Tehran’s Evin jail, ideal conditions for the virus to spread. He said there was an acute shortage of gloves and masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

The request from the independent panel of experts comes as Iran announced that 89 more people had died from Covid-19, taking the toll to nearly 5,000, the sixth day that the number of deaths has fallen.

But a parliamentary report on Tuesday said that the total death toll was estimated to be as much as 80 per cent higher owing to the way that the figures were collected.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has shut schools, universities and imposed other restrictions but stopped short of a full lockdown seen in other countries.