Iran failing to control coronavirus spread in prisons: Rights group

At Tehran’s Evin prison, 12 of 17 incarcerated people tested in Ward 8 were positive for coronavirus in August. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2020

Iran failing to control coronavirus spread in prisons: Rights group

  • Disinfection of prison facilities is lacking, basic hygiene products including soap are not readily available
  • Prisoners who were released at the start of the epidemic are now being returned to serve out their sentences

PARIS: Iranian authorities are not taking the measures needed to limit the spread of coronavirus in its overcrowded prisons, including institutions where foreigners such as Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert are held, a rights group charged on Wednesday.
Disinfection of prison facilities is lacking, basic hygiene products including soap are not readily available, the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) said in a report.
It also warned that prisoners who were released at the start of the epidemic to limit close contacts are now being returned to serve out their sentences.
Iran has insisted that its actions to limit the spread of coronavirus among its prisoners have been exemplary despite being one of the hardest-hit countries in the region.
But the report, based on interviews with released prisoners and sources inside Iran, said the original directives have now largely been abandoned.
“Hygienic conditions in Iranian prisons, rather than improving, have significantly deteriorated” since April, said the NGO, named after an Iranian lawyer murdered in Paris in the early 1990s.
“Disinfections by prison officials have stopped across several investigated prisons, apparently due to a lack of budget,” it said.
Quarantine procedures were “self-defeating” with newcomers and existing prisoners mingling in common bathing, exercise and transport facilities.
While Iran released tens of thousands of prisoners to limit overcrowding at the beginning of the pandemic, this “initial effort... seems to have been abandoned by late spring, when prisoners were called back from furlough.”
More than 60,000 detainees were still on furlough in early August, according to Iran’s judiciary spokesman.
Roya Boroumand, executive director and co-founder of the Center, told AFP it was impossible to quantify the spread of Covid-19 in Iranian jails but the information obtained was troubling.
“If there is not a problem then why don’t we know (the figures)? We suspect that that’s really bad,” she said.
She added that even at the height of the pandemic Iran was showing no mercy to detainees, be they political prisoners, drug users or members of the proscribed Bahai faith.
“They keep arresting people. The continued arrests are the problem,” Boroumand said.
At the Zanjan prison in northern Iran, which holds the rights activist Narges Mohammadi, a former associate of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, failure to isolate an infected prisoner has exposed the entire women’s ward to coronavirus, the report said.
Mohammadi, who has pre-existing health conditions, herself believes she contracted the virus after a batch of new prisoners arrived and complained to the prison authorities.
Conditions in Qarchak women’s jail, where Moore-Gilbert was transferred earlier this year to serve a 10-year sentence on espionage charges she rejects, are also dire, with a “sewer system that overflows into the wards’ courtyards,” the report said.
Since the pandemic began, Qarchak prison officials have distributed disinfectants to prisoners once, and have never distributed additional cleaning or personal hygiene products.
Masks made inside the prison in unsanitary conditions are distributed free of charge. By mid-July, 30 people were being held in a room at the wing for critically ill prisoners.
Meanwhile, at Tehran’s Evin prison, 12 of 17 incarcerated people tested in Ward 8, which houses political prisoners, were positive for coronavirus in August, it said.
A source with knowledge of Tabriz Prison in northern Tehran described the hygiene situation as “catastrophic,” while quarantine wards have been filled at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad.
“If left unchecked, Covid-19 will continue to infect more prisoners and staff, with tragic consequences,” the report said.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 6 min 22 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”