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Urgent Interventions

Amid heightened risk of COVID-19 in detention facilities, all human rights defenders must be immediately released

Paris-Geneva,August 13, 2020 – As COVID-19 continues to hit Iran, with a growing number ofinfections recently confirmed in places of detention, it is urgent toimmediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders,the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) said today.

Inlight of the dire situation in detention facilities, where social distancing isvirtually impossible and where sanitary conditions are extremely inadequate,exposing prisoners to the highly contagious COVID-19, prominent human rightsdefender Nasrin Sotoudeh published a letter on August 11, 2020,announcing that she would go on hunger strike until
all political prisoners in the country were released.Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer and a major figure in the fight forhuman rights in Iran, is currently serving a 38.5-year prison sentence underfabricated charges. In May 2020, the Tehran Prosecutor ordered to freeze herbank accounts without justification. Since then, requests for clarificationmade by her husband and her lawyer have been left unanswered.

TheObservatory is further concerned about recent reports of additional cases ofCOVID-19 in detention facilities. Over the past week, random tests in Ward 8 ofTehran’s Evin prison showed that 12 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, whichled to their transfer to the prison clinic on August 9. Among them are humanrights defenders Esmaeil Abdi, former Secretary General of the TeachersAssociation, Jafar Azimzadeh, Secretary of the Board of Directors of theFree Union of Iranian Workers, and lawyer Amir Salar Davoodi. TheObservatory is particularly concerned about the health of Messrs. Abdi andAzimzadeh, as they suffer from asthma and from kidney and heart diseases,respectively.

TheObservatory also recalls that on July 11, 2020, Ms. Narges Mohammadi,Spokesperson and Vice-President of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC),tested positive to COVID-19. Ms. Mohammadi, who has been detained since May 5,2015, and is currently detained in Zanjan prison, Zanjan Province, had beendisplaying COVID-19 symptoms since late June. After her test results, she wasplaced in quarantine with 11 other prisoners who also tested positive forCOVID-19. Ms. Mohammadi suffers from several serious health conditions,including a pulmonary embolism and a neurological disorder, which make herparticularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

TheObservatory recalls that in Iran scores of human rights defenders remain behindbars as a punishment for their human rights activities. Given the poordetention conditions in the country’s detention facilities, the high risk ofcontracting COVID-19, and the totally unacceptable deprivation of theirliberty, the Observatory reiterates its call on the Iranian authorities toimmediately and unconditionally release them.

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 byFIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of thisprogramme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rightsdefenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.

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