Iran: Prison doctors abuse and deny treatment to persecuted women

Women prisoners of conscience from Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish religious community are being subjected to verbal abuse, including sexual slurs, and denied proper medical treatment by doctors and other health professionals at Shahr-e Rey prison on the outskirts of Tehran, Amnesty International revealed today.

The organization has received testimonies indicating that doctors at the prison, a former industrial chicken farm in Varamin, are routinely dismissing the women’s complaints of pain and discomfort as “fake” while refusing to prescribe them medication on a timely basis or carry out thorough diagnostic tests. They are also failing to ensure that medical equipment in the prison clinic is functioning properly and poses no threat to patients’ health.

“Deliberately denying medical treatment to any prisoner is unlawful, cruel and inhuman and can amount to torture. These women from Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish community should not even be imprisoned in the first place. It is deplorable that the Iranian authorities are seeking to intimidate and torment them further,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Iranian authorities must ensure all individuals in custody receive adequate health care and are treated with respect and dignity. Any prison staff suspected of abusing or withholding medical treatment from detainees must be investigated and prosecuted in trials that meet international standards.”

At least 10 women from Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish community have been arbitrarily detained in Shahr-e Rey prison in inhuman conditions, without access to their lawyers, since February 2018. They were arrested for their peaceful participation in a protest in Tehran by members of the persecuted minority, which turned violent when security forces used water cannons, firearms and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

As a result of their ill-treatment by security forces, these women have had a range of health problems in custody, including head injuries, broken arms and vaginal bleeding. They also have been denied adequate treatment for pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

According to reports received by Amnesty International, the women have been subjected to hostile interrogation-style questions about their court cases and insults over their beliefs by doctors at Shahr-e Ray prison. There are concerns that doctors have also sought to degrade the women by exploiting cultural taboos around sexuality, asking the women intrusive questions about their sexual relations, such as whether they have “boyfriends” or are “sleeping around with men”.

A source told Amnesty International that women requesting emergency medical care in the evening or at night have been refused treatment by doctors and nurses until the following day and even berated for purportedly disturbing the medical staff’s sleep in the middle of the night.

There are concerns about the reliability of medical equipment at the prison clinic, as, during the last three months, it has shown prisoners as having normal blood pressure even when they were experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure, including severe headaches, vision problems, chest pain, difficulty breathing and an irregular heartbeat. High blood pressure exposes people to the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Detainees also said a lack of stretchers and wheelchairs has resulted in fellow detainees being forced to carry sick prisoners out of their rooms and into the clinic, which has led to falls and other accidents.

“Prisoners’ access to health care is a right enshrined in both international and Iranian law. The international community, including the European Union, must demand that the Iranian authorities urgently grant access to international monitors including the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, so that they can carry out unannounced inspections of Shahr-e Rey prison, including private interviews with prisoners,” Philip Luther said.

There are concerning reports that in a further deliberate attempt to abuse and degrade the prisoners, the Gonabadi Dervish women have also been forced to pick weeds in the prison yard with their bare hands as a condition for being permitted telephone calls with their families and a couple of hours of fresh air during the day.

Shahr-e Rey prison is a disused chicken farm that holds hundreds of women convicted of violent offences in conditions falling far below the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). Common complaints include urine-stained floors, lack of ventilation, insufficient and filthy bathroom facilities, prevalence of contagious diseases, poor quality food containing small pieces of stone and salty water.


The 10 detained women from Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish community are: Shokoufeh Yadollahi, Sepideh Moradi, Maryam Farisani, Nazila Nouri, Sima Entesari, Shima Entesari, Sedigheh Safabakht, Maryam Barakouhi, Elham Ahmadi, and Avisha Jalaledin. An 11th woman, Shahnaz Kiani, who suffers from severe health problems including high blood pressure, abdominal pain and diabetes, was released on 23 May after months of being denied adequate medical care.

In recent weeks, the women have been taken to the Prosecutor’s Office and formally charged with spurious national security charges including “gathering and colluding against national security”, “disrupting public order” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. Their lawyers were not allowed to be present for the session or meet their clients beforehand.

The women have said that they have been threatened with transfer to prisons in remote provinces.

Amnesty International has previously called on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all the Gonabadi Dervish women held in Shahr-e Rey prison as they have been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.