UN rights experts call for Iran prisoner furlough

The UN has repeatedly urged Tehran to temporarily release prisoners, including human rights defenders, from jail to protect their wellbeing. Above, Evin Prison in Tehran. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 16 September 2020

UN rights experts call for Iran prisoner furlough

  • UN special rapporteur: Tehran’s refusal ‘during pandemic symptomatic of complete disregard for fundamental human rights’
  • Special rapporteur: ‘Iranian human rights defenders in prison at high risk of contracting COVID-19; should not be imprisoned in first place’

LONDON: Experts from the UN Human Rights Council have called on Iran to temporarily release human rights defenders from prison to protect them from the spread of COVID-19.

“Iranian human rights defenders in prison are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 because the government has failed to take effective action to protect their health and integrity, and grant them temporary release, despite its orders to furlough over 100,000 prisoners,” Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement issued to Arab News.

“They should not be imprisoned in the first place, and so I urge the government to grant them release before their inaction results in tragic consequences.”

Lawlor said she had received reports of the deteriorating health and wellbeing of imprisoned human rights defenders in Iranian detention.

The UN has repeatedly urged Tehran to temporarily release prisoners, including human rights defenders, from jail to protect their wellbeing.

“The refusal of the authorities in Iran to grant human rights defenders temporary release during a pandemic is symptomatic of a complete disregard for fundamental human rights, and for the safety and wellbeing of those imprisoned for their human rights work,” said Javaid Rehman, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country.

Iran’s prisons have long been a major vulnerability in the country’s fight against COVID-19. According to rights group Amnesty International, “Iran’s prisons remain catastrophically ill-equipped for dealing with outbreaks.”

Its prison system was already vastly overcrowded, Amnesty said, and the coronavirus outbreak only made the situation more dire.

In July, Amnesty reported that prison officials in Iran had pleaded with the government to provide more resources, including medical equipment, cleaning and hygiene supplies, and personal protective equipment to help fight the prison outbreak. Those pleas went unanswered.

Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

Updated 29 September 2020

Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

  • Opposition party submits parliamentary question on torture after villagers allegedly thrown from military helicopter

ANKARA: The mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey is under the spotlight again following allegations of torture and food poisoning.

Three politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who were recently arrested said they were hospitalized with food poisoning during their detention, while Amnesty International has demanded the government investigate allegations that two Kurds were thrown out of a military helicopter.

The government accuses the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and thousands of its members have been prosecuted for the same reason, including its leaders. The HDP denies such links. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US.

The HDP politicians, including Ayhan Bilgen who is mayor of Van province, fell ill after eating food served at Ankara police headquarters.

Bilgen was not immediately taken to hospital, nor was he allowed to talk to his legal team until after HDP lawmakers had talked with government officials to have him hospitalized.

The trio are under arrest as part of a probe into violent protests that took place in Kobane in 2014. Their detention period was extended on Monday by another four days.

Amnesty International has urged the government to investigate allegations that two Kurds, aged 55 and 50, were thrown from a military helicopter in Van. The rights group voiced its concerns about the “allegations of torture and mistreatment” which it said were unacceptable under international human rights law and standards that Turkey was obliged to comply with.

The men alleged to have been thrown out of a military helicopter were arrested on Sept. 11 as part of an operation against the PKK. Both were hospitalized and had signs of heavy beatings on their bodies.

One of the men was shown to the media with a bloodied face. He is experiencing memory loss. The other man’s condition remains critical. He is suffering from brain trauma, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and has been in intensive care for more than two weeks.

Relatives of the villagers have demanded justice and the uncovering of the truth through a proper investigation.

Amnesty International wants Turkey to investigate the case impartially, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has submitted a parliamentary question about the allegations of torture.

HDP lawmaker Ali Kenanoglu said his party would follow up the mistreatment allegations at a domestic and international level.

“Kurds have become the scapegoat of the current regime because they are considered as the easiest target that doesn’t have any strong social support behind it,” he told Arab News. “Currently all policies involving war and violence are conducted by targeting Kurds. The mistreatment regarding this segment of society has not received strong backing so far, which opens more room for such efforts.”

Once the Kurdish lawmakers were arrested they were automatically under state protection, he said. “However, state impunity still prevails when it comes to the implementation of the rights of Kurdish community.”

On Monday, HDP deputies and officials were outside the parliament building to protest against the detention of their colleagues, who are accused of inciting violence in Kobane.

Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, called for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment of Kurdish villagers.

“Those found to be responsible should be brought to justice in a fair trial,” she told Arab News. “Turkey is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, both of which it is a party to. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe is tasked with monitoring places of detention in member states and can ask questions regarding the cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment. As Amnesty International, we will continue monitoring the developments in this shocking case.”

Buyum said that people in detention must be allowed access to their lawyers once they were deprived of their liberty.

“The delay in speaking to the lawyers is concerning. The HDP representatives have been able to consult their legal representatives after four days. They still don't know the substance of the allegations they face as they have not yet been questioned.”

The rights group said that there was increased concern about detention conditions because of the pandemic, and that authorities should step up their efforts to ensure the health and safety of those in custody.

Separately, a Kurdish singer said on Monday that he had been warned by security and intelligence officials against singing in his mother tongue and to stay away from HDP events.

“You will be in trouble if you sing in Kurdish again,” Cesim Basboga was reportedly told. "You’ve been provoking people with songs.”

Basboga will file a complaint.