ISRAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN: Iran is putting political prisoners’ lives at risk by denying them medical care

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26 Jul 2016
[International Secretariat]

Iran’s authorities are callously toying with the lives of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners by denying them adequate medical care, putting them at grave risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to their health, according to a new report by Amnesty International published today.

The report, Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons, provides a grim snapshot of health care in the country’s prisons. It presents strong evidence that the judiciary, in particular the Office of the Prosecutor, and prison administrations deliberately prevent access to adequate medical care, in many cases as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate, punish or humiliate political prisoners, or to extract forced “confessions” or statements of “repentance” from them.

“Prisoners’ access to health care is a right enshrined in both international and Iranian law. When depriving a prisoner of medical care causes severe pain or suffering.”

The report details 18 cases of prisoners who have been denied medical care in some form and are at risk of suffering permanent damage to their health.

Prisoners subjected to a shocking range of abuses

The report provides a deeply disturbing image of the Office of the Prosecutor, which in Iran is responsible for decisions concerning medical leave and hospital transfers. The Office of the Prosecutor often refuses to authorize hospital transfers for sick prisoners and denies requests for medical leave for critically ill prisoners against doctors’ advice.

Amnesty International’s research found that in some cases prison officials had also violated prisoners’ rights to health, or were responsible for torture or other ill-treatment. In several cases, they withheld medication from political prisoners or unnecessarily used restraints such as handcuffs and leg shackles on political prisoners, interfering with their medical treatment.

Prisoners interviewed by Amnesty International also said that prison doctors were sometimes complicit in the abuse. They said some prison doctors consistently downplayed or outright dismissed their health problems as “figments of their own imagination” and treated serious conditions with painkillers or tranquillizers.

The report reveals that women political prisoners, at least in Tehran’s Evin Prison where the clinic is entirely staffed by male doctors and nurses, face additional barriers to accessing medical care. On several occasions women prisoners, who experienced health problems, were denied emergency medical tests or other treatment because it was deemed inappropriate for them to be treated by male medical staff. Women were also subjected to sexual slurs and harassment for failing to comply with strict veiling regulations.

Hunger strikes

Many political prisoners suffering from health conditions have felt that they have had no choice but to go on hunger strike to compel the authorities to provide them with medical care. Hunger strikes are usually greeted with indifference but in some cases the authorities have eventually granted the hunger striker short-term medical leave, then forced them to interrupt their treatment by returning them to prison after a brief period against medical advice. In some cases prisoners were punished for going on hunger strike.

Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately stop denying prisoners access to adequate medical care, in line with their international obligations. The authorities must investigate the prosecution authorities and all other officials – including medical staff – who may be involved in deliberately denying medical care to prisoners.

18 July 2016

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