Rights group accuses Iran of shooting inmates in COVID-19 jail protests

At least 35 inmates were killed and hundreds wounded, according to Amnesty.
Thursday 09/04/2020
A demonstrator holds a poster that reads "Free All Political Prisoners" as he attends a protest against Iranian President Hassan Rohani outside the UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)
Healthcare rights. A demonstrator holds a poster that reads "Free All Political Prisoners" as he attends a protest against Iranian President Hassan Rohani outside the UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Amnesty International on Thursday said that more than 30 prisoners are feared to have been killed by Iranian security forces during protests over coronavirus safety concerns.

The UK-based organisation said in a statement that 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 protesters 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.”

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 abroad that the country’s real numbers could be much higher.

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

Last month, a judicial spokesman said authorities had temporarily released 100,000 detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease. But thousands of so-called security prisoners, including bi-nationals and political detainees, have remained in jail.

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 United Nations 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."

(With news agencies)