GENEVA (22 July 2020) – Iran must release human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, reportedly ill with coronavirus symptoms, and other arbitrarily detained individuals before it is too late, a group of UN human rights experts* said today.
The group of 16 experts expressed grave concerns that Ms. Mohammadi appears to have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison. Mohammadi has been in detention since 2015 on charges that stem from her human rights work. She received a combined 16-year prison sentence in May 2016, of which she will need to serve 10 years under Iranian law.
“We are extremely concerned for Ms. Mohammadi’s well-being. We previously raised concerns that she and other individuals in Iranian prisons are at great risk if they contract COVID-19 and we called for their immediate release,” the experts said. “For those with underlying health conditions, such as Ms. Mohammadi, it may have life-or-death consequences. The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late.”
They also called on authorities to give Mohammadi the results of the COVID-19 test she took on 8 July, and to move her to a hospital for proper care. She showed the first symptoms of COVID-19 on 29 June 2020 and her condition soon deteriorated and led to a loss of consciousness on 5 July 2020.
Despite these symptoms, and her repeated requests for medical attention, prison authorities reportedly failed to provide such assistance. On 8 July 2020, her family went to the Zanjan prosecutor’s office to request she is provided medical care, and the same day she was tested for COVID-19. She has been denied access to the results, despite one of her cellmates having been tested positive and others having displayed symptoms of the disease.
“We also deplore the publishing of a video by State-affiliated media which claims to portray Ms. Mohammadi receiving a medical check-up by a doctor, reportedly to suggest that she is in good health. This video represents a violation of Ms. Mohammadi’s privacy rights and has no value as its content cannot be verified in any way,” the experts stressed.
The experts are also worried that there may be more cases in prison, as prisoners previously released on furlough are returned to prison, and a second wave of COVID-19 hits Iran. There are longstanding concerns over Iran’s ability to contain disease outbreaks in overcrowded and unhygienic prisons.
On 16 April 2020, the experts commended Iran’s policy to grant temporary release to prisoners to mitigate COVID-19 in prisons. However, the experts also raised concerns that many human rights defenders like Mohammadi, as well as human rights lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists and other prisoners of conscience held without sufficient legal basis had not benefitted, and urged the initiative be extended to them.
“Ms. Mohammadi should not be in prison in the first place,” the experts said. “The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that her detention is arbitrary and called for her immediate release in 2017. Not only do the Iranian authorities continue to imprison her, they have in the past year denied her contact with her family, and are also seeking to prosecute her under new charges in order to continue her unlawful imprisonment.”
“We yet again call on Iran to immediately release Ms. Mohammadi, as well as all others who are currently denied their right to liberty in contravention of Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
* The UN experts: Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions ; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Alda Facio, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana Radačić, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.