Iran: Concerns for Nasrin Sotoudeh’s health amidst high prevalence of COVID-19 in Iran’s prisons

PEN International is alarmed by reports that the health of Iranian writer, lawyer and rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has deteriorated following her transfer from hospital back to her prison cell. It calls on PEN members to reiterate their calls for her for her immediate release and to be able the receive the medical attention she so urgently needs.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been imprisoned since June 2018 and is serving a cruelly long sentence of 38 years in retaliation for her work as legal representative for human rights victims. In August 2020 she went on hunger strike, ending it six weeks later as her health became critical. She was subsequently transferred to hospital on 19 September to receive treatment for heart disease and other medical issues. However, she was returned to Evin Prison just a few days later, against medical advice that she should remain in hospital as her health needs continue to be acute. This decision has been described by UN experts as ‘unfathomable’ and that her imprisonment is clearly in retaliation for her defence of human rights.

PEN International learned on 20 October that Sotoudeh has been transferred again, this time to Qarchak women’s prison, 30 km outside Tehran and notorious for its appalling conditions.

Sotoudeh’s situation becomes more alarming with the news that several of the guards present in the hospital where Sotoudeh was being treated have contracted COVID-19. The poor sanitary conditions in Iran’s prisons has exacerbated an already acute situation for political prisoners, leading the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, to call for temporary release of all rights defenders.

On 22 September 2020 PEN International issued a call to action, demanding that the Iranian authorities release Nasrin Sotoudeh immediately and unconditionally. Today, a month later, it repeats its call, with added urgency in light of her deteriorating health.

To read more about Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case and advice on action you can take, see PEN International alert of 22 September 2020. Learn more about PEN International's reporting on Iran.

For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, MENA Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: sara.whyatt@pen-international.org

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