The death in custody of an internet blogger in Iran on Wednesday raised renewed fears that prisoners in the country are being denied medical treatment, possibly as an extra punishment.
Omid Reza Mirsayafi’s death follows that of another political prisoner, Amir Hossein Heshmat Saran, who died in suspicious circumstances on 6 March after five years in prison.
“The full circumstances of both prisoners’ deaths have yet to become clear, but it appears that both may have resulted from a failure or refusal on the part of the prison authorities to allow them urgently needed medical treatment,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“The Iranian authorities have an obligation to ensure that both deaths are urgently and impartially investigated, and to ensure that any officials responsible for denying or withholding medical treatment or for contributing to these prisoners’ deaths in other ways are brought to justice.”
Omid Reza Mirsayafi died at Tehran’s Evin Prison less than six weeks after starting a 30-month sentence. He was convicted of “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the system” in relation to articles he had written on his blog. He denied the charges.
He is reported to have been suffering from depression, for which he received some medication from the prison clinic and to have become seriously ill after taking an overdose.
Another prisoner, who is a medical doctor, Dr Hesam Firouzi, provided immediate assistance and recommended his hospitalization. Despite this prison staff were reported to have failed to recognize the seriousness of his condition and did not transfer him to hospital.
Two weeks earlier, Amir Hossein Heshmat Saran died at a hospital in Karaj shortly after he was taken there from Raja’i Shahr (or Gohardasht) Prison. He was serving an eight-year sentence imposed in 2004 for establishing the United National Front political party.
He died after he was reported to have become seriously ill on 4 March. His wife has said that, when she visited him in hospital on 5 March, he appeared to be in a coma and that he was shackled to the hospital bed. After his death, a hospital doctor told her that he had suffered a brain haemorrhage and a lung infection and that he should have been hospitalized sooner.
Other political prisoners have died in custody in suspicious circumstances in recent years. Abdolreza Rajabi, a member of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), died unexpectedly in Reja’i Shahr Prison on 30 October 2008.
In 2006, Akbar Mohammadi, a student, died in Evin Prison, and Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, a PMOI member under sentence of death, died in Reja’i Shahr Prison after hunger strikes in which they were apparently denied adequate medical attention.
“These latest deaths underline the urgent need for the Iranian authorities to improve prison conditions and to take immediate measures to ensure that all prisoners in their custody are treated humanely,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“It is shameful that the health of prisoners is disregarded to such an extent that they are denied potentially life-saving treatment and allowed to die while in the care of the state. We fear that refusal of timely medical care is being used as another tactic in the arsenal of repression of dissent in Iran.”