By Peter Tase
Over the last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Navid* (37) a political prisoner in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz, Iran. His thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak in the prison system in Iran, are of vital importance as International community is grappling with public health crisis.
Adelabad Prison was built in 1971, south of Shiraz in an uninhabited area and is one of the oldest prisons in Iran. Fifty years have passed since this dreadful and labyrinthine prison was built, and many political prisoners during the Shah (the previous Regime) and the current regime (Islamic Republic) have spent their lives in this dark dungeon with minimal sanitation.
In terms of construction, this prison is very worn out. Lacking fresh-air facilities the ventilation and water system in this prison is such that the rooms are cold in winter and always warm in summertime.
The following is a brief interview with Navid, about the Coronavirus outbreak in prison.
What is the reason for the prevalence of Coronavirus in prisons?
Navid: The Coronavirus spread in prison is intentional. They want to get rid of us by this means. Therefore, they are not serious in preventing the spread of Coronavirus in prison and they do not take any preventive measures. As a result, health regulations and preventive measures are deliberately not taken seriously. Both in prison and outside, they follow this line. They deliberately violate hygiene guidelines.
The method of quarantine in prison is a formality. According to preventive guidelines, anyone entering the prison from outside is supposed to be quarantined for 14 days, but new prisoners are brought to regular wards before the end of quarantine Period. Although they know very well, it takes 14 days to determine if a person is infected with the virus. This week, a prisoner was brought to us after his arrest. Several prisoners infected with Coronavirus were transferred back from the regular ward in a few days after being transferred to quarantine. The closed environment and the air we breathe are polluted. The population density in the prison is very high.
How do Iranian authorities deal with Coronavirus cases among prisoners, especially political prisoners?
Navid: Iranian authorities do not care what will happen to the prisoners. They do not accept any responsibility. They pretend to have a quarantine, but they do not quarantine properly. They announce they give hygiene items to the prisoners, but they do not give us hygiene items and we must buy them with our own money and are very expensive. Earlier, the prison store did not carry hygiene items. We did not have disinfecting gels or masks. Now a 5-pack of masks in prison’s store is 15,000 Tomans. They put a liquid in the toilet and the sink that is not clear what it is! Disinfectants in prisons are the same that is used for combating bedbugs that are ineffective against Coronavirus.
What matters is the polluted air prison. No action has been taken in this regard. They gave some leave at the beginning of this spring. We had more space and social distancing was somewhat observed. But they returned all of them back to prison. Currently, there are 14 prisoners in 3m x 4m rooms. Especially at night when prisoners sleep there is no distance between them. Meanwhile, the authorities claim and announce they are reducing the prison population! They announced that they would release all but dangerous prisoners, but in practice they just released drug traffickers.
How can international intervention play a role in future protests of prisoners’ families and the Iranian regime?
Navid: They must put pressure on the regime to release the prisoners. The authorities announced that they will release all the prisoners except the dangerous ones. They use this a pretext to not release political and uprisings prisoners. However, holding prisoners in an enclosed space no matter what they charged him with has the right to have access to medical treatment.
What actions has the Iranian regime taken in response to Coronavirus outbreak?
Navid: To date, no effective action has been taken. Overall, the regime tries to blame the public for its own mismanagement. In general, they pretend that people are the cause of this virus. When they do not prevent the spread of the virus, it means that they themselves facilitate the spread. The regime, like other countries, could spend the public funds and keep people in their homes. But they chose to loot and steal the public funds and use the Coronavirus outbreak for their own survival.
*The real name of the prisoner is changed for security reasons and to avoid any repercussions.