Updated: May 12
In this COVID-19 pandemic, Iran is suffering one of the deadliest and most damaging outbreaks of any country in the world. Last week, the Iranian parliament’s research center released a report written by independent experts asserting that the true death toll could be nearly double the official figures and that the number of infections may be up to 10 times higher. If confirmed, these numbers would make Iran the country with the highest number of cases in the world. In a study by Ebby Abramson, Iran’s prestigious Sharif University warns that the death toll may rise to 3.5 million in a worst-case scenario. Despite the catastrophic situation on the ground, the government reopened businesses and resumed regularly scheduled public transportation last week—a move that could spark another wave.
The situation is even worse in Iran’s prisons. In February, the UN released a report documenting how the unsanitary and overcrowded prison conditions in Iran were already causing the spread of other infectious diseases. By the beginning of March, COVID-19 was added to the list. At that point, the women’s ward in Evin Prison, where a large number of the female prisoners of conscience are detained in cramped and unsanitary spaces, had already run out of medical and cleaning supplies. These prisoners of conscience are confined to rooms with 18 women and sleep on triple bunk beds with little space in between. They are at an even greater risk than the general prison population, as their wellbeing is already often compromised by torture, denial of medical treatment, other mistreatment, and their own hunger strikes. At least ten prisoners have reportedly died of the virus in Iran, though the numbers cannot be verified as authorities have denied outside observers access to prisons. The authorities have reported the release of some tens of thousands of “low-level” prisoners temporarily to control the spread. However, it is not possible to verify the high number of alleged releases, and authorities have thus far refused to release hundreds of peaceful political prisoners. This is no judicial oversight. It is part of a policy that looks to further punish political prisoners by keeping them in dangerous conditions. We therefore urge governments, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, the United Nations, and other international organizations to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to immediately release the following known prisoners of conscience, along with any other political prisoners, to save their lives. The following women are leading human rights defenders, lawyers, educators, writers, artists, and environmentalists. They have been sentenced to some of the harshest prison sentences in Iran’s history. The list includes Iranian and dual citizens.* Evin Prison: 1. Nasrin Sotoudeh 2. Fariba Adelkhah 3. Kylie Moore-Gilbert 4. Mojgan Keshavarz 5. Saba Kord Afshari 6. Raheleh Ahmadi 7. Yasaman Aryani 8. Monireh Arabshahi 9. Atena Daemi 10. Niloufar Bayani 11. Sepideh Kashani 12. Maryam Akbari Monfared 13. Samaneh Norouz Moradi 14. Negin Ghadamian 15. Zahra Zehtabchi 16. Rezvaneh Khanbeigi 17. Elham Barmaki 18. Maryam Haj Hosseini
Other Prisons: 19. Golrokh Iraee Ebrahimi (Qarchak Prison) 20. Leila Mirghafari (Qarchak Prison) 21. Raha Ahmadi (Qarchak Prison) 22. Zohreh Sarv (Qarchak Prison) 23. Maryam Ebrahimvand (Qarchak Prison) 24. Fatemeh Khishvand (Qarchak Prison) 25. Narges Mohammadi (Zanjan Prison) 26. Zeinab Jalalian (Khoy Prison) 27. Fatemeh Sepehri (Vakilabad Prison, Mashhad) 28. Fatemeh Dadvand (Bukan Prison) 29. Mojgan Sayami (Ardebil Central Prison) 30. Fatemeh Asma Esmaeilzadeh 31. Enis Saadet 32. Jaka Esmaeilpour 33. Sheida Najafian 34. Samira Hadian 35. Hajar Ardasr 36. Hakimeh Ahmadi 37. Fatemeh Kohanzadeh 38. Zari Tavakkoli 39. Gita Hor 40. Maryam Mokhtari 41. Saghar Mohammadi 42. Mokhgan Eskandari 43. Nahid Beshid 44. Simmin Mohammadi 45. Ehteram Sheikhi 46. Sheida Abedi 47. Masoumeh Ghasemzadeh Malekshah 48. Yalda Firouzian 49. Farideh Jaberi 50. Masoumeh Askari
Signed: Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights European Parliament, Vice-President Heidi Hautala on behalf of the Community of Sakharov Prize laureates Abdorrahman Boroumand Center Alliance Against State Hostage Taking Arseh Sevom Article 18 Center for Human Rights in Iran Defenders of Human Rights Centre Equality Now Freedom House Human Rights Activists in Iran Human Rights Foundation Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre Iran Human Rights International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) International Observatory of Human Rights Lantos Foundation Movements.org Nobel Women Siamak Pourzand Foundation Stop Child Executions United for Iran
 Nasser Karimi, Iran parliament: Virus deaths nearly double reported figures, The Associated Press, Apr. 15, 2020, available at https://apnews.com/15502fe8fc535119f927d2669b63ce91.  Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell, Iran warns virus could kill ‘millions’ in Islamic Republic, The Associated Press, Mar. 17, 2020, available at https://apnews.com/6e92d93551ee6c6ae51d0acaaad9eb32.  Emma Farge, U.N. urges Iran to free political prisoners temporarily amid coronavirus, Reuters, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights-iran/u-n-urges-iran-to-free-political-prisoners-temporarily-amid-coronavirus-idUSKBN20X1YV.  Iran: UN expert alarmed by detention conditions in the wake of recent protests, Office of the UN High Comm’r for Human Rights, Mar. 9, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25689&LangID=E  Grave Concerns for Prisoners in Iran Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Feb. 28, 2020, available at https://iranhumanrights.org/2020/02/grave-concerns-for-prisoners-in-iran-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/.  No water, no soap and crowded cells: COVID-19 fears spark riots in Iran’s prisons, France24, Apr. 7, 2020, available at https://observers.france24.com/en/20200407-covid19-riots-iranian-prisons-deaths  https://en.radiofarda.com/a/political-prisoner-in-iran-on-hunger-strike-to-protect-inmates-from-coronavirus/30493143.html.
*This article originally appeared in The Raoul Wallenberg Centre. We republished it to support the cause and like minded organizations.