By Ehsan Mehrabi
They did not want to transfer prisoners to the hospital so they brought the hospital to the prison. The planned building of a hospital in Evin Prison was the mark of the judiciary’s reluctance to transfer sick prisoners to hospitals outside of the prison. That plan, however, like many other projects undertaken by the Islamic Republic, lacked the necessary preparatory studies and assessments and was ultimately reduced to a clinic.
Arash Alai, an Iranian physician and researcher who currently resides in the U.S. and previously spent three years in Evin Prison, says it would never have been economically feasible to have specialists and specialized equipment related to all diseases in the prison.
Anyone who has spent time in Evin Prison knows of a prisoner who has passed away there due to a lack of adequate medical treatment.
Prisoners who were there in the eighties probably came across more of these cases, because at that time of fierce crackdown on opposition forces, the provision of adequate medical care was probably regarded as a joke by prison authorities.
According to Taghi Rahmani, who has endured 14 years of imprisonment at various stages of the Islamic Republic government, in those days if they dressed a wound caused by cable lashings, it was only so they could then give more lashings. Rahmani remembers Parvin Abkenari, who after 12 hours of lingering at the edge of death, was transferred to the infirmary only to die there. “Ali Ansari was in a similar situation. Providing care for prisoners who were on hunger strike was also unheard of by the authorities in those days. If some prisoners went on a two-day hunger strike, the prison authorities would cut off prison rations for another day in memory of the first Evin Prison warden under the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Lajevardi, who set the precedent of ‘nipping prisoner freshness in the bud’.”
Transfer to the Hospital Subject to Permission of the Interrogator
Those prisoners who went on hunger strike individually would be transferred to the infirmary and forced to get an IV. In those days, physicians and infirmary personnel treated you in the same way as interrogators. There is a well known anecdote from those days about the lab technician who would ask prisoners in the infirmary if they were repentant of their opposition to the Islamic Republic, and if he felt a prisoner was not repentant enough, he would give the shot without removing the prisoner’s pants. These days, prisoners would rarely get physicians or infirmary staff with such an attitude. That is why in June of 2011, when prisoners heard that instead of transferring Hoda Saber to the hospital, the physicians had hit him on the head and returned him to his cell, they were in disbelief.
Hoda Saber had gone on a hunger strike after the death of Religious-Nationalist leader Ezzatollah Sahabi resulted in the suspicious death of Haleh Sahabi, his daughter, who was attending her father’s funeral on leave from prison. Jailed physician Arash Alai was monitoring Saber’s condition and told his cellmates that he had suffered a heart attack and would only survive if they could take him to the hospital right away. Saber’s close friend, Taghi Rahmani, says their own investigations in connection with his death revealed to them that the reason for the delay in transferring him to the hospital was that the infirmary personnel had to wait for permission from his Revolutionary Guards interrogator.
While regulations indicate that judiciary officials have jurisdiction over the transfer of prisoners to hospitals, for years now they have been under the thumb of the Revolutionary Guards and have to seek their permission in connection with many political prisoners in this regard.
Medical Treatment is a Right, Not a Demand
In the course of political disputes, sometimes it is forgotten that receiving adequate medical treatment is not a concession demanded by prisoners from prison authorities; it is rather a right provided for even in the Prison Rules and Regulations.
Arash Alai, who researched healthcare in Iranian prisons both before and after his own imprisonment, says the Prison Rules and Regulations document contains detailed articles regarding health, nutrition and the prisoners’ living space. According to the Rules, if the prison incarceration poses physical or mental risks to prisoners, they must be released following the receipt of relevant medical reports. However, for years this article of the Rules, known as “inability to endure the sentence”, has been disregarded for political prisoners, and in effect they are even denied hospitalization in the face of serious medical problems.
Inmates in section 35 of Evin Prison have seen many prisoners in recent years enduring serious medical problems while prison authorities ignored their suffering and allowed them to die right before the eyes of their cellmates or in hospital, after the transfer there had been critically delayed. Mohsen Dogmehchi, Hassan Nahid, Alborz Ghassemi and before them Akbar Mohammadi can be named among those who have met such a fate.
Islamic Republic judicial authorities who have ordered the execution of thousands of prisoners probably could not care less about the death of a few more. In this vein, it is only natural to hear the current spokesman of the judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, say this in response to the outrage regarding jailed scientist Omid Kokabi, who is suffering from kidney cancer: “Don’t people outside the jail get kidney problems? Just because someone gets sick in prison, we cannot just turn around and say your sentence is null.”
The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani, has also been quoted as saying that “the death of prisoners, especially in the case of older prisoners and those suffering from addiction, is a distinct possibility in any prison.” This line of reasoning, which relies on the presumption that anyone, anywhere in the world could get sick, may appear full proof. However, those who have experienced Iranian prisons know that prison conditions are highly conducive to sickness and the exacerbation of medical problems.
The high number of prisoners in Iran has led to prisoners getting only a small fraction of the space envisioned for them in the Prison Rules and Regulations. When the writer of this article was in prison, 25 prisoners were on average given a 50-square-metre room, allowing them a living space of two square metres. The 200 inmates in the prison had little chance of getting any exercise in the 300-square-metre yard. On top of it all, the psychological pressures endemic to prison conditions naturally exacerbate any medical problems.
Progressive Premeditated Murder
The removal of Omid Kokabi’s kidney following his diagnosis of kidney cancer has focused attentions once again on sick prisoners: prisoners such as Zeinab Jalalian, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, Issa Saharkhiz and Abdolfattah Soltani, who are in need of immediate medical care. The Human Rights Defenders Centres says in a report that according to Prison Rules and Regulations: “Any delay in the treatment of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience has serious consequences for the judicial system, and in case of a prison death, prison authorities could be accused of manslaughter.”
Ignoring the medical needs of prisoner should be regarded as premeditated murder as opposed to manslaughter. However, compliance with this article of the Prison Rules and Regulations is also regarded as a joke by Iranian prison authorities, because to date there has been no mention of a disciplinary reprimand against any prison official for having delayed the provision of medical services to prisoners, let alone laying charges against them or accusing them of manslaughter.