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Article 3 of the International Human Rights Declaration states: “Every individual is entitled to life, liberty and personal security”. The loss of the lives of two political prisoners in Iran in a span of less than two weeks is indicative of the fact that the judiciary apparatus and prison authorities are not committed to preserving and securing the lives of prisoners while they are incarcerated.
Amir-Hussein Heshmat-Saran and Omid-Reza Sayafi were two prisoners who died in Raja’i Shahr and Evin Prisons, respectively. Both were suffering from multiple physical ailments and needed to seek proper medical care and treatment outside of prison. Nevertheless, interference by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Court, and persistence by both institutions on not allowing political prisoners out of their sight, limited the extent of the prisoners’ treatments inside the prison, ultimately leading to their demise.
Even if one discounts the violation of prisoners’ basic rights, it begs the question “who should be held responsible for the deaths of the prisoners?”
According to international documents: “Any time governments decide to incarcerate an individual, the governments are in full charge of the prisoners’ well being while they are held, and governments must provide appropriate facilities capable of providing needed care during emergency conditions. In other words: “Judiciary organizations are responsible for the safety and security of the lives of prisoners while they are held captive.”
Article 102 of Iran’s Prison System Constitution and Prison’s Responsibility for Providing Care, ratified on January 10, 2000, states: “Medical facilities are responsible for providing medical testing to all prisoners at least once a month”.
Article 103 in the same constitution has also stated: “To the extent possible, all appropriations must be considered in providing medical care to all prisoners inside the confinements of the prison systems to avoid unnecessary transferring of the prisoners to medical facilities outside of the prison. However, in cases when prisoners require medical care outside of the prison, the attending physicians are required to alert the prison authorities to the condition to issue a permit for a specialized care, which is then authorized by the judge assigned to the case. During emergency situations, upon recognition by the attending physician, proper authorities in prison can issue a permit immediately and authorization by a judge can be secured at the earliest convenience…” The article only identifies the prison authority as the main decision-maker to allow the transfer of a prisoner needing emergency care. During emergency conditions, only decisions by the prison authority can override decisions made by the attending physician regarding whether or not the patient-prisoner should be allowed to be transferred outside of the prison.
In past two years, at least five political prisoners have died under such conditions.
Akbar Mohammadi was the first victim of such circumstances, despite warnings by government doctors that Mr. Mohammadi was not generally fit to withstand incarceration. Nevertheless, Mr. Mohammadi was picked up from his residence and transferred to prison. About one year earlier, Mr. Mohammadi had received a temporary relief from prison to seek medical care outside of prison. Once Mr. Mohammadi was returned to the prison, in a sign of protest against actions by the Ministry of Intelligence, he began a hunger strike. Prison authorities turned a blind eye to Mr. Mohammadi’s demands and ignored the intensity and criticality of his vital signs, which ultimately led to Mr. Mohammadi’s death inside Evin Prison ten days later.
The judiciary body never provided any response, and the question remains as to under which agreement, which reasoning and which expert medical recommendation did this institution act in brining Mr. Mohammadi back to prison.
Shortly afterwards, another prisoner, Valiullah Faiz-Mahdavi, died under similar situations in Raja’i Shahr Prison. Prison authorities listed his cause of death as suicide. Mr. Faiz-Mahdavi began a hunger strike when his appeal for a temporary relief from prison was denied.
Abdulreza Rajabi, a political prisoner, also died of unknown causes after he was transferred to Raja’i Shahr Prison. Political Prisoners in Evin prison stated: “He (Mr. Rajabi) was in a critical state of health and he desperately needed to be cared for outside of the prison”. Under these circumstances, not only was he not attended to medically, but rather he was transferred from Evin to Raja’i Shahr Prison before the news of his death was announced.
Amir-Hussein Heshmat-Saran is another case of a prisoner who died in a hospital outside of prison due to a lack of proper medical care and attention, as cited by prison medical staff. By the time Mr. Heshmat-Saran was transferred to a hospital, he was already dead and beyond any help that hospital doctors could provide to save him. In 2004, Mr. Heshmat-Saran was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for organizing an illegal opposition group, and he had more recently suffered heart attacks, despite which he was not allowed to take relief time from prison.
Omid-Reza Sayafi was the latest victim whose death occurred as a result of insufficient medical care provided by prison medical staff. According to other political prisoners, his death could have easily been avoided, had prison doctors allowed him to seek medical care outside of prison.
It appears that the improper and insufficient medical care administered inside prisons will result in the deaths of more prisoners in future. While the published news on such deaths is focused on political prisoners, many other ordinary prisoners are also faced with such perilous predicaments.
Accordingly, many are seriously worried about the health and safety of political prisoners in Iran. Below are brief descriptions on the statuses of three political prisoners who are in dire need of proper medical care outside of prison.
The Head of Kurdistan Human Rights Defense organization was convicted of starting an illegal organization and he has been given a harsh sentence by the Revolutionary Court. In spite of Mr. Kaboodvand’s poor physical condition, he has not been allowed to receive temporary relief time.
On July 1, 2007, intelligence agents detained Mr. Kaboodvand and sent him to Section 209 in Evin Prison, which is managed by the Ministry of Intelligence. Mr. Kaboodvand was kept in solitary confinement for five months.
Last year, Mr. Kaboodvand experienced a number of heart attacks, and although prison doctors have recommended his transfer to a hospital outside of the prison, a spokesman for the judiciary described his condition as normal.
According to reports by Kurdistan Human Rights Defense organization, Mr. Kaboodvand has been transferred to outside hospitals twice during the past two months. Nevertheless, prison authorities have not recognized the necessity of further treatment outside of the prison, and they have refused to issue an approval.
Presently, many are seriously concerned about Mr. Kaboodvand’s general well being.
Chairman of the Iran Democratic Party, he has been convicted of forming an illegal opposition group by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, sentencing him to an 8-year jail term.
Mr. Khorsandi is considered to be a political prisoner, and in addition to suffering from a heart ailment, he is also suffering from a psychological disorder, continuous headaches and gastrological problems, requiring close medical attention.
Mr. Khorsandi was under the care of physicians prior to his arrest, and after he was sent to prison, his medical care was reduced to a minimum. Authorities have refused to grant him a relief period based on his medical needs.
Family members of Mr. Khorsandi have repeatedly expressed their concerns about his poor medical condition, particularly his heart ailment.
Head of the labor management board in the bus drivers’ union, he has been sentenced to a 5-year imprisonment. Mr. Esonlou was suffering from an acute eye problem when he was taken to prison, even though he needed an eye surgery. Mr. Esonlou was not allowed to seek medical care for a few months after his arrest, and when permission was finally granted, his transfer to a hospital and the surgery took place under the very close supervision of security forces. However, prison authorities did not allow him to spend enough time for convalescence in the hospital, and forced him to return to prison shortly afterward.
Also, Ebrahim Madadi is another member of the labor management board in bus drivers’ union who is incarcerated in Raja’i Shahr Prison, and he is suffering from diabetes and a prostate condition.