Human Rights

Iran inmates killed in COVID-19 jail protests: Amnesty



A bus driver wearing a protective mask as a precaution against novel coronavirus disease operates a bus in Iran's capital Tehran on March 15th. [STRINGER/AFP]

Amnesty International on Thursday (April 9th) said that more than 30 prisoners are feared to have been killed by Iranian security forces during protests over novel coronavirus (COVID-19) safety concerns.

In a statement, the rights group said thousands of inmates in at least eight prisons in the Islamic Republic had held demonstrations in recent days.

Citing "credible sources", Amnesty said authorities at several facilities responded with live ammunition and tear gas, killing some 35 inmates and wounding hundreds of others.

It also alleged security forces beat protestors in at least one prison.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, called the Iranian authorities' response to the prison demonstrations "abhorrent".

"Instead of responding to prisoners' legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns," she said.

Eltahawy called for "an independent investigation into the torture and deaths in custody" and urged security forces in Iran to "refrain from punishing prisoners calling for their right to health".

Reports of riots, jail breaks

Iran, one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, on Thursday reported 117 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing its overall toll to 4,110 fatalities. It also declared 1,634 new infections, for a total of 66,220 cases.

There has been speculation that the country's real numbers could be higher.

Reports also have surfaced of several prison riots and jail breaks in Iran in recent weeks.

Last month a judicial spokesman said that authorities had temporarily released 100,000 detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease.

Amnesty cited reports of inmates testing positive for COVID-19, and said prisoners had been staging hunger strikes over a lack of measures, including testing and quarantine.

The rights group urged Iran to release prisoners of conscience, along with people in pre-trial detention and those most at-risk from the virus.

Last week, the UN voiced outrage over the death of a juvenile offender after reported beatings by guards at an Iranian prison following a riot.

The UN rights office said inmates at the Mahabad prison in West Azerbaijan province were protesting against "prison conditions and the failure of the authorities to temporarily release them amid the COVID-19 pandemic".

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