Iran: Authorities deliberately jeopardize health of jailed activist with cancer

The Iranian authorities are torturing jailed human rights defender Arash Sadeghi, who has cancer, by deliberately depriving him of the specialist medical care health professionals have said he desperately requires, Amnesty International revealed today.

Arash Sadeghi, whom Amnesty International considers a prisoner of conscience, having been sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2016 solely for his peaceful human rights work, was diagnosed with a cancerous bone tumour last month. However, authorities at Raja’i Shahr prison, in Karaj, a city north-west of Tehran, have since repeatedly impeded his access to potentially life-saving medical care.

The Iranian authorities’ treatment of Arash Sadeghi’s is not only unspeakably cruel; in legal terms it is an act of torture
Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for Middle East and North Africa

“The Iranian authorities’ treatment of Arash Sadeghi’s is not only unspeakably cruel; in legal terms it is an act of torture. Every step of the way, the prison authorities, the prosecutor’s office and the Revolutionary Guards have done everything they can to hinder and limit access to the essential treatment that Arash requires in order to address his life-threatening cancer,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The authorities are intentionally denying this brave human rights defender medical care, exacerbating his severe pain and deliberately ignoring advice from medical professionals. They are increasing his suffering for the purpose of adding to his already grossly unjust punishment.”

The Iranian authorities have continuously denied the 31-year-old vital medical care since he went on hunger strike in late 2016 in protest at the imprisonment of Golrokh Ebhraimi Iraee, a fellow human rights defender and his wife.

On 8 September, prison authorities were contacted by Tehran’s Imam Khomeini hospital several times to arrange Arash Sadeghi’s transfer there to undergo surgery scheduled for the following week. However, the hospital staff were told that the prosecutor’s office had not issued the required permission for Arash Sadeghi to be taken to hospital.

Doctors at the hospital had wanted Arash Sadeghi transferred there at least three days prior to the date of his operation to monitor him and prepare him for major surgery. However, prison authorities chose to transfer him late on 11 September, causing him to miss the original date scheduled for his operation, and thus disregarding medical warnings that any delay would endanger his life.

The surgery took place on 12 September and lasted over seven hours. 

“After major surgery, Arash Sadeghi needed to spend at least one hour in the recovery room. Unbelievably, security forces removed him prematurely and shackled his left hand and left leg while he was still unconscious.  Security forces then blocked the area around his hospital bed, which resulted in the medical team being unable to conduct routine post-op checks, despite protests from hospital staff,” said Philip Luther.

“To endanger the life of any patient by delaying surgery and preventing medical checks is completely unacceptable conduct by the authorities. Unfortunately, this is only of many occasions in which Amnesty International has documented the deliberate denial of vital medical treatment to prisoners.”

On 15 September 2018, Arash Sadeghi was transferred back to Raja’i Shahr prison. This was against strict explicit medical advice that required him to spend at least 25 days hospitalized following the operation so that he could be monitored by specialist doctors. Doctors said that they needed this post-operative recovery period to assess whether Arash Sadeghi required chemotherapy, radiation therapy or additional surgery.

There can be no doubt that the Iranian authorities are deliberately jeopardizing the health and life of Arash Sadeghi.
Philip Luther

On 22 September, Arash Sadeghi was booked for a morning appointment with his cancer surgeon who had specified his availability being limited to the morning.  However, the prison guards transferred Arash Sadeghi in the afternoon, by which time the surgeon was no longer present.

Arash Sadeghi was instead examined by a general practitioner who diagnosed a serious infection in his surgical wound. The general practitioner assessed that the infections would have been much less likely if Arash Sadeghi had been hospitalized following his operation as advised by the specialist doctors.

“There can be no doubt that the Iranian authorities are deliberately jeopardizing the health and life of Arash Sadeghi. As a result of deplorable negligence by the authorities, Arash Sadeghi’s right arm appears to have a serious infection,” said Philip Luther.

Arash Sadeghi is awaiting the results of tests conducted on the samples removed from suspected cancer sites to see whether the cancer has spread. This may take another two weeks and will indicate his next course of treatment, including possible additional surgery.

“The Iranian authorities must release Arash Sadeghi immediately and unconditionally. Pending release, they must respect and protect Arash Sadeghi’s right to life and freedom from torture by providing the best medical care at their disposal, while strictly following the instructions of the medical team treating him. The atrocious behaviour of the authorities in this case must be the subject of an independent inquiry,” added Philip Luther.

Background

Arash Sadeghi has been imprisoned since June 2016, serving two separate prison terms totalling 19 years. He is being solely punished for his peaceful human rights activities, including communicating with Amnesty International and providing the organization with information on the human rights situation in Iran. His court verdict cites over 50 peaceful human rights activities as “evidence” of his involvement in “actions against national security”, many of them relating to the dissemination of information about human rights violations.

His trial before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, in which his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, was also prosecuted, was grossly unfair. It consisted of two brief sessions in May and June 2015, each lasting less than 15 minutes, with neither defendant having legal representation.

Arash Sadeghi has had worsening health problems since he went on a 71-day hunger strike in October 2016.

Further information on his situation can be found here.