Amnesty International wants an independent investigation of the conflict at Qezel Hessar Prison on Tuesday night which led to death of at least 14 inmates and left many more injured.
“Such a high death toll is extremely worrying,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. Noting the overcrowded conditions at the prison, she added, “Prison officials have a responsibility to maintain order and to protect the lives of prisoners, but must exercise restraint.”
Iranian prison authorities claim the incident occurred when a group of condemned prisoners and convicted drug traffickers committed arson and other acts of destruction in an attempt to escape.
They contend that the incident was brought under control by the “strong presence of prison officials and other prisoners.” The report on state television also stated that a number of inmates died from “sustained injuries as well as smoke inhalation.”
“A prompt inquiry into these deaths is essential,” insists Hadj Sahraoui. “But it must be independent and transparent, as international human rights standards require.”
Gholamhossein Esmaili, the head of the Iranian prison system, announced that the incident is under judicial investigation, and the “perpetrators of the disturbances at Qezel Hessar Prison in Karaj have been identified.”
But Amnesty International maintains: “Unfortunately, the Iranian Judiciary has routinely failed to carry out such investigations, so we are once again calling on the international community to use the current session of the UN Human Rights Council to create a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on human rights in Iran.”
Human rights activists have told Amnesty International that the prisoners were in fact protesting against poor conditions and multiple attempts to transfer several inmates for execution.
One activist informed Amnesty International of a phone conversation with one of the prisoners on Wednesday morning: “I was told that armed guards had stationed themselves on the roof of the prison and outside the doors to the section, and the prisoners set fire to bedding to try to stop the guards from entering. The prisoner told me that the guards were shooting at everyone.”
According to Amnesty International, six people died from gunshot wounds and more than 100 may have been injured. Some later died later at medical treatment centres or on the way there.
Iranian authorities confirmed that 14 people died and were 33 injured. According to state television reports, some prison guards were among those killed.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui adds: “We know that the Iranian authorities are on a killing spree at the moment, having executed well over 100 people – mainly alleged drugs offenders – since the start of the year. This is yet one more reason why they should immediately order a moratorium on all executions.”