According to a recent report by sources inside Iran, prison conditions have become deadly in the Central Prison of Karaj, 20km north of Tehran, since the previous head of the prison infirmary was replaced by Dr. Pajman Adeli in February 2014.
Basic and prescribed medications have been discontinued; prisoners are not transferred to hospitals during medical emergencies; prisoners are denied examination by the prison physician for ailments, and medications for mental disorders have been replaced with methadone. Access to special diets required by prisoners with medical conditions such as diabetes has also been stopped.
For the past three decades, there has been much documentation regarding human rights violations against political prisoners in Iran but there has been a shortage of news about the conditions and treatment of prisoners. In recent months, however, human rights activist Mitra Pourshajari obtained such a report about the Central Prison of Karaj, which houses mainly non-political prisoners with a few exceptions.
Gohardasht Prison, Karaj, Iran. (Image source: Ensie & Matthias/Flickr)
"These prisoners come from extremely poor families and many of them do not have anyone to speak up for them. They also do not have the means to contact us; as a result, many of them are dying from ill treatment, neglect and absolute lack of medical care without anyone noticing," she said in an interview.
"Perhaps most shocking," she continued," is that medications such as anti-anxiety and anti-depressants have been cut off for prisoners with mental disorders and replaced with methadone, which has been made easily accessible to prisoners in unlimited amounts. As a result, many have died from an overdose; about two-to-three deaths per week have been witnessed by sources in the last few months, and the numbers may be increasing."
Prisoners have also apparently died by other means. Mr. Ali Eblami, for example, a prisoner in his early thirties, was stabbed during a prison brawl and bled to death because prison authorities refused to transfer him to a hospital.
According to the sources, Dr. Adeli regularly denies medical treatment to those complaining of ailments after "visually" examining them with a "glance," and declaring the majority of prisoners "in good health" and "not in need of medical care." He has reportedly denied prisoners medications for heart disease and other serious health issues; he cites "financial difficulties," even though each prisoner is signed up upon arrival for mandatory health insurance paid for by the government.
"Upon admission into the facility," according to Ms. Pourshajari, "each prisoner is given an ID card and health insurance by the government to cover medical care. No one knows where this money is going, because according to a lot of documents, a large number of prisoners in Iran -- both political and non-political -- are being denied medical care. Many have died or are dying. In this prison, in particular, even basic medications such as Tylenol, cold medication, etc; have been discontinued and are no longer accessible to prisoners in need. There are no rules or standards implemented in prisons, and with everything left at the discretion of the head physician, prisoners are left vulnerable to neglect."
The Lancet, one of the most respected and oldest general medical journals dedicated an article to this topic on May 5, 2012. According to the article, both Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights [PHR] have spoken of their grave concerns about Iran's withholding of medical care in order to silence dissidents and to make an example of these prisoners by "breaking peoples' spirit".
In 1955, the United Nations adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, describing the minimum conditions suitable to the United Nations. Paragraph 22 requires that prison medical services should be organized in close relationship with outside medical services, as restated in a 1990 Resolution establishing Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners: "Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation".
The 1988 United Nations Resolution "Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment" goes further, holding in Principle 24 that "medical care and treatment shall be provided whenever necessary. This care and treatment shall be provided free of charge.
It must be emphasized that all convictions in the Islamic Republic of Iran -- from imprisonment to the death penalty -- for the trials of both political and non-political prisoners, are based on 7th century Islamic laws, which fall dramatically short of international standards. Trials reportedly last only minutes -- without lawyers, evidence or jury, and with Islamic senior clergy as presiding judges. They have no formal education in the field of law. Therefore, under International law, each and every sentence handed down by Iranian courts is, or should be, illegal. The government of Iran however claims that every legal option is routinely provided for defendants -- a claim totally contrary both to eyewitness accounts and human rights documents gathered over the last 35 years. As such, it could be concluded that all prisoners, even those justly convicted of crimes, are imprisoned illegally in the Islamic Republic of Iran.