UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called Tuesday for Iran to release jailed human rights defenders, lawyers and political prisoners, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Iran is the country worst-affected by the pandemic in the region, and conditions in prisons create a breeding ground for the virus. The prisons have a history of being overcrowded and of having poor sanitary conditions, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. There are reports of “shortages of water, hygiene products and disinfectant, insufficient protective equipment and testing kits as well as a lack of isolation spaces and inadequate medical care,” which have led to an increase in cases.
In February the Iranian judiciary allowed the temporary release of 120,000 prisoners to reduce the prison population and slow the spread of the virus. However, it refused to release people with more than five-year sentences for “national security” reasons. This includes many human rights defenders, lawyers and political prisoners who have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of arbitrary denials.
Bachelet said on Tuesday, “People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk.” She went on to highlight the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer who has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison and is at a higher risk to contract the virus because she has a heart condition.
Bachelet ended her statement by calling on Iran to reconsider the sentences of these prisoners in accordance with Iran’s international obligations. She said COVID-19 gave them an opportunity to rectify their injustices.