Rights defender Narges Mohammadi says authorities have put the lives of female prisoners in danger by refusing to protect them from Covid despite new cases.

Prominent civil and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has been transferred to the Women’s Ward of Tehran's Evin Prison after a recent open-heart surgery, said Thursday that some of the inmates have tested positive for Covid while several others have developed symptoms but have not been tested.

“Self-isolation is impossible given the high number of inmates and the small size of the women’s ward,” Mohammadi wrote in a letter from Evin which was published on her Instagram page.

“It is the duty of human rights activists and organizations not to remain silent about the violation of prisoners’ basic rights, to defend the legal rights of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and their right to health, and to force the government to abide by human rights,” Mohammadi wrote.

She also added that currently there are over 50 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience at the Women’s Ward of Evin and the number keeps increasing. “These many inmates with various political and ideological affiliations are unprecedented in the history of the prison … This indicates increasing suppression by the government,” Mohammadi said in her letter.

Mohammadi has been to jail several times over the past two decades. She was freed from Evin Prison in September 2020 after serving more than five years when she had no contact with her husband and children for long periods of time. She was arrested again and sentenced to eight years in jail and 70 lashes by the Revolutionary Court on trumped-up political charges again in a five-minute trial in late January.

Ill-treatment of political prisoners and activists at Evin and other prisons such as Qarchak is not limited to denying them necessary healthcare. Sepideh Rashno, an anti-hijab protester who is reportedly held at a ward run by the IRGC at Evin, had to be taken to hospital to check for internal bleeding symptoms resulting from torture before her ‘forced confession’ was aired on state-run television last week.

In a message from the notorious Qarchak Women’s Penitentiary to the PEN Melbourne in June, Mohammadi and another rights activist, Alieh Motallebzadeh, urged the the international community to support efforts by Iranian civil society activists to establish democracy in the country.

Mohammadi and Motallebzadeh, both of whom are cofounders and chairs of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, say judicial authorities have been holding them at Qarchak Penitentiary with ordinary criminals including those serving time for murder and drug trafficking.

In another message from prison in June, Mohammadi called on right organizations to put pressure on the Islamic Republic for its crackdown on popular protests and said the international community should condemn the “killing of people on the streets” similar to pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The most recent protests in Iran began on May 6 as the government drastically raised food prices, leaving tens of millions of Iranians in danger of facing hunger as inflation surpassing 40 percent has depleted their means to buy basic food.

Crackdown on protesters and persecution of human rights and political activists including women’s rights and anti-hijab activists and ill-treatment of prisoners has been on the rise since hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi took office last August which consolidated hardliners’ power over all the three branches of government.

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