Iran is one of the worst-affected countries by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and it has begun to release a number of its prisoners of conscience who are put at great risk by the spread of the disease. Iran needs to do more.
It is time for Iran to release all of its prisoners of conscience. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has drawn special attention to Iran. Her spokesperson has noted that Iran has already released about 40 percent of its entire prison population in order to reduce overcrowding. However, many prisoners of conscience have not been released.
In a February 2020 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Mr. Rehman raised concerns about Iran’s prisons. He described how overcrowded and unhygienic conditions were causing the spread of infectious disease. In some cases, prisoners had to provide their own soap.
I have written before about the Baha’is of Iran, a religious minority that has been systematically persecuted by the government. Dozens of Baha’is are in prison for unjust reasons, and they need to be released. While some have already been released, many others remain in prison.
As Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, has stated: “These individuals are innocent and should have never been incarcerated in the first place. Their current detention is not only unjust, it is now placing their lives in considerable danger.”
In recent months, Bahaʼis have been arbitrarily arrested because of their religion all across Iran, in various provinces including Alborz, Bushehr, Esfahan, Fars, Khouzestan, Mazandaran, Semnan, Sistan Baluchestan, Tehran, and Yazd.
Ms. Dugal has joined other groups, like Amnesty International, in calling for all prisoners of conscience to be freed.
I urge the Government of Iran to listen to the United Nations and other authorities and release all imprisoned Baha’is and other prisoners of conscience, in order to reduce the health risks associated with the spread of coronavirus in overcrowded and unhygienic prisons.