Ailing journalists in Iran’s prisons need urgent UN action, RSF says

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed about imprisoned journalists in Iran who are denied medical care when they are ill, and calls for swift action by the UN special rapporteur to ensure that the Iranian authorities respect their obligations regarding the treatment of prisoners.

The victims include Narges Mohammadi and Alieh Motalebzadeh, two women journalists who were arrested at their Tehran homes while on medical furlough from prison on 12 April. They were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison and were then transferred to Qarchak women’s prison. Mohammadi was deprived of her medicine for a week, including the pills she is supposed to take every day since undergoing a heart operation.


After being returned to prison, Motalebzadeh – a photojournalist who is also vice-president of the Press Freedom Defence Association – wrote an open letter to judicial system chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei denouncing her arrest “without a legal warrant” and her persecution by officials working for the intelligence ministry and for Amin Vaziri, the deputy prosecutor responsible for prisoners of conscience at Evin prison.

As she has served a third of her sentence, the law says she should have been released but instead the regime prefers to “crack down on the resistance in prison by allowing sick prisoners to die,” she wrote.

On 23 April, Mohammadi and Motalebzadeh were notified that they are now subject to a “medical furlough ban for six and three months, respectively” and that a complaint has been brought against them by the Iranian prisons organisation.

The victims of mistreatment and neglect in Iran’s prisons also include Alireza Saghafi, a freelance journalist and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association who used to edit Rah Ayandeh, a magazine closed in 2010, and Naghd Noo, also now closed. He was transferred from Kachooie prison in the city of Karaj to a nearby hospital with high blood pressure on 21 April, only to be returned to his prison cell a few hours later.

Arrested in Karaj on 14 March along with several other participants in an event to mark dissident writer Samad Shabani’s death, the 69-year-old Saghafi was taken to Kachooie prison to serve the one-year jail sentence he received from a Karaj court in September 2019 for “anti-government propaganda.” His family reports that, ever since his arrest, he has been suffering not only from high blood pressure but also constant fatigue linked to his age and the prison food.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi, a 60-year-old journalist who is also a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, was also forced to return to his prison cell on 5 April despite still having respiratory problems since being hospitalised in early January with a severe case of Covid-19.


A third member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, Baktash Abtindied on 8 January as a result of not being treated promptly when he caught Covid-19 in Tehran’s Evin prison. RSF reiterates the request it made to the UN on 15 January for the creation of an independent international commission of enquiry into this journalist’s death.

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is Javaid Rehman, who was reappointed by the UN Human Rights Council for another year during its 49th session.


“Under international human rights law, Iran’s prison authorities have an absolute obligation to ensure the health and well-being of detainees placed under their control by providing them with appropriate, adequate and timely medical care,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “Javaid Rehman must do everything possible to put a stop to these cases of deprivation of care, which are flagrant violations of the right to health of prisoners and the ban on inhuman and degrading treatment enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.”


The Islamic Republic of Iran is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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