Iran urged to release female political prisoners during COVID outbreak

"This is no judicial oversight. It is part of a policy that looks to further punish political prisoners by keeping them in dangerous prison conditions."

NASRIN SOTOUDEH 370 (photo credit: Wikipedia)
(photo credit: Wikipedia)
Human rights groups, together with the Vice President of the European Parliament, have called on Iran to release its female prisoners of conscience over concerns that the women are at high risk during the coronavirus outbreak.
Together, 20 human rights organisations, along with Vice-President Heidi Hautala have co-signed a letter calling on the Iranian regime to release 50 female prisoners from a number of prisons around the country, where they are being kept in unsanitary conditions.
"In February," the signatories wrote, "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."
The continued: "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 a room 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 ill-treatment and their own hunger strikes."
Tens of thousands of "low level" prisoners have already been released by the Iranian government due to concerns that COVID-19 could spread through the prison system. However, so far the authorities have refused to release political prisoners, of which there are hundreds in Iran's prisons.
"This is no judicial oversight. It is part of a policy that looks to further punish political prisoners by keeping them in dangerous prison conditions," the letters signatories have written.
The women listed include women are human rights defenders, lawyers, educators, writers, artists, and environmentalists, who the signatories say "have been sentenced to some of the harshest prison sentences in Iran’s history." Both Iranian and duel citizens are included on their list of requested releases.
That list includes Nasrin Sotoudeh, a leading human rights lawyer who has been referred to as Iran's Nelson Mandela. Last year Sotoudeh, 56, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for defending women's rights, and representing children sentenced to be executed, journalists, and political prisoners.
“Nasrin Sotoudeh has sacrificed herself for Iran’s most vulnerable her entire life, until becoming the most vulnerable herself,” said former Justice Minister and Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), Irwin Cotler, quoting Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, Nasrin’s Iranian lawyer who was forced into exile.
“While statistics show that women leaders are more successful at containing the virus internationally, Iran is condemning their own to virtual death sentences,” said Yonah Diamond, an international human rights lawyer with the RWCHR.
Other names on the list include 60-year-old Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist and academic specialising in Iranian studies, and 32-year-old Atena Daemi, an Iranian civil rights, childrens' rights and human rights activist who was charged with distributing anti-death penalty leaflets and criticising Iran's execution record on social media.