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The Iranian government has ignored repeated requests from senior prison officials for help in containing coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded prisons, according to Amnesty International.

The rights group said it had reviewed four-letter copies of the Ministry of Health signed by officials of the Iranian Prison Organization, “raising the alarm about serious shortages of protective equipment, disinfectants and essential medical devices.”

The ministry “did not respond, and Iranian prisons remain catastrophically unequipped for outbreaks,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Iran has fought to contain the deadliest outbreak of the new Middle East coronavirus since it announced its first cases on February 19. Authorities have confirmed over 16,000 coronavirus deaths.

Amnesty said the head of the prison’s health office had submitted a letter to the ministry of health for help on February 29, before follow-up letters were sent in March, May, June and July.

The March letter called for disinfectants and protective equipment to last three months, including 1 million liters of surface disinfectant and 5.4 million Amnesty.

“These official letters provide overwhelming evidence of the government’s appalling failure to protect prisoners,” said Diana Eltahawy, deputy regional director of Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa.

Women who wear protective masks shop in a Tehran bazaar.  Iran has recorded over 300,000 coronavirus cases and beyond.  16,500 dead.

Women who wear protective masks shop in a Tehran bazaar. Iran has recorded over 300,000 coronavirus cases and beyond. 16,500 dead. Photograph: Wana News Agency / Reuters

Amnesty said the letters “are in stark contrast” to the public statements made by the councilor to the head of the judiciary, Asghar Jahangir, who praised Iran’s “exemplary” initiatives to protect prisoners from the pandemic.

The rights group said it had “received distressing reports of prisoners exhibiting neglected COVID-19 symptoms for days, even when they had pre-existing heart and lung problems, diabetes or asthma.”

“When their condition worsens, many are simply quarantined in a separate section of the prison or placed in solitary confinement, without access to adequate health care,” said the rights group.

Since March, over 100,000 inmates in Iran have obtained temporary release or sentencing to limit infections in prisons.

But a group of UN experts said this month that the released detainees were now being brought back to prison, despite a second wave of viruses in the country.


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