June 22, 2013

On Friday, June 21, 2013, labor activist and political prisoner Afshin Osanlou, who was only 42 years old, suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.  Mr. Osanlou was arrested in 2009 and was charged with conspiracy and propaganda against the regime.  Although the case against him was remarkably weak and vague, he was sentenced to five years in prison and began serving his term in Evin and Rajai-Shahr prisons on September 23, 2010.

In an interview with Iranian Students News Agency, the Head of Tehran Province Prisons, Sohrab Soleimani, announced that Osanlou had died of a heart attack in prison.   However, the news of his death shocked his family and friends.  “My brother had no prior health related problems or illnesses,” well-known labor activist Mansour Osanlou said.  “The regime is responsible for his death.  My brother was arrested for being a labor activist.  He was locked up in prison under appallingly unsanitary conditions and very poor nutrition.”

“The bureaucracy  present in the prison system is slow, complicated and unnecessarily cumbersome when it comes to transferring an inmate to a hospital outside the prison,” Mansour Osanlou added.  “Also, the clinic inside the prison lacks the required facilities.  All of these factors have played an important role in my brother’s death as well as other prisoners’ demise.”

Given the fact that prison officials have failed to address the questions surrounding Afshin Osanlou’s death, we believe that the circumstances leading up to this tragedy remain to be suspicious and mysterious.  Obviously, ill-treatment of inmates, deliberate abuses, and  lack of proper medical care can lead to their death.

Prison officials continue to ignore their own responsibilities in providing necessary medical care for inmates.  Since other political prisoners have also died while in custody, we are very concerned about the well-being of all activists behind bars.  Based on the information we have received, political prisoners Arash Sadeghi and Mohammad Reza Pour-Shajari are also sick and in critical condition.  These two political prisoners deserve our immediate attention before it is too late.

Student activist Arash Sadeghi was arrested on Jan. 14, 2013 and locked up in solitary confinement in Evin Prison.  His father, Hussein Sadeghi, has said that the family was not allowed to see Arash for a long time.  However, when prison visits were permitted, the family had noticed that their son had lost a lot of weight and clearly suffered from fatigue and weakness.  While in prison, Arash’s hair had been shaved off, and he was kept in solitary confinement and denied access to an attorney.  His family has also reported that he now suffers from serious pulmonary problems and stomach ulcer.

Mohammad Reza Pour-Shajari is another imprisoned blogger known as Siamak Mehr.  He was arrested on September 12, 2010 and is now locked up at the Central Prison in Karaj.  This 52-year-old political prisoner suffers from multiple illnesses including respiratory problems, poor vision, spinal disc herniation, kidney failure, stomach pain and malnutrition.  Following an angiography performed in September 2012, two prison doctors, Amjadi and Nejad-Bahram, expressed concerns about his health.  Although both doctors have stated that Pour-Shajari is unable to endure prison conditions, officials have failed to forward his case to the medical examiner for further considerations.  His daughter, Mitra Pour-Shajari, has stated that her father has been denied furlough, and he is currently in critical condition.

In the light of recent events, we express our deepest condolences to Afshin Osanlou’s family and announce that this activist’s death is, yet again, another warning sign well-deserving of everyone’s attention.  The international community must worry about the condition and safety of all political prisoners in Iran.  Lack of proper, timely medical care or abuse of inmates can easily be the cause of their illnesses and mysterious deaths.  Following this chain of events, it has become apparent that the judiciary system together with the penal institutions across the country works closely in coordination with the Intelligence Agency to create such an environment in Iran’s prisons.

We believe that denying medical care to prisoners is against Iranian and international laws and in violation of human rights principles as well as Articles 102, 103 and 113 of Iranian regulations overseeing the penal institutions.  Similarly, Article 22, section two, of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the First United Nations Congress in 1955, states, “Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or civil hospitals.”

Our organization strongly condemns physical and psychological tormenting and torturing of prisoners.  Articles of the United Nations Convention against Torture specifically define what torture is and emphatically ban any inhuman, cruel actions against prisoners.  Likewise, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights denounces torture and states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Despite the aforementioned international codes and other existing provisions in the Constitution of the Islam Republic, political prisoners are forced to endure a variety of mistreatments in Iran.  For instance, during the first seven months of his detainment in Karaj’s Rajai-Shahr Prison, Mohammad Reza Pour-Shajari was locked up in solitary confinement.  Arash Sadeghi was denied access to an attorney and wasn’t allowed any visits or contacts with his  family for some time.

The Human Rights Activists in Iran would like to take this opportunity to remind the Islamic regime that it is the government’s duty to provide medical care for prisoners.  This fundamental principle is a necessary condition without which a prisoner’s human rights can’t be guaranteed.  Access to adequate medical care must not be a privilege bestowed on prisoners but part of their basic rights.  This care must be provided without regard to their religion, race, color or political beliefs.  In short, the responsibility to safeguard the lives of prisoners and to ensure their physical and emotional well-being lies with the government.

We hereby call for the formation of an independent committee in Iran to investigate and reveal the truth about Afshin Osanlou’s death as well as other inmates’ mysterious deaths in recent years.  This committee may work closely with the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations in its fact-finding mission.  Our organization also asks Dr. Ahmed Shaheed to react to Osanlou’s death and express concerns about the well-being of other political prisoners in Iran.

Human Rights Activists in Iran

June 22, 2013