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Prisoners in Iran, afraid of coronavirus, riot and attempt mass escapes

A prison burning in Ahwaz.


Since the beginning of the Newroz period (Iranian New Year), and the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic in Iran, the country has witnessed around ten incidents of riots and mass escapes from prisons.

These have taken place throughout the country. The incidents have taken place across the divides of Iran’s multi ethnic society. Azeris in Tabriz, Kurds in Saqqez, Arabs in Abadan and Ahvaz, and Persians in Isfahan and Shiraz and several other cities have all participated.

On March 21th, on the first day of Newroz, riots broke out in the Aligoudarz Prison, Lorestan. There were clashes between prisoners and guards. No immediate escapes took place but a number of escape attempts took place in subsequent days.

In another attempt in the following days at Parsilon Prison in Khorram Abad-Lorestan 23 prisoners escaped with a coordinated plan inside and outside the prison and with the help of local people. In an arranged time, outside of the prison, the inmates’ friends with covered faces in two cars started shooting at guard towers to distract the forces. Inmates confiscated the guns of the riot guards and prisoners escaped. forces have reportedly failed to arrest the prisoners so far.

On March 26th Prisoners in Central Tabriz Prison protested against the entry of new prisoners into the prison, breaking the quarantine regulations, as well as weak implementation and not adhering to amnesty directive of prison furlough.

Tabriz Prison is among the tallest residential towers in the city. Tabriz is the capital of Eastern Azerbaijan province, with an overwhelmingly Azeri population. Locals in their apartments filmed from various angles the shooting and rioting in the prison. In the footage, the sounds of inmates and the sound of gunshots are heard. Smoke and fire swept through part of the prison. Locals claim that the authorities placed snipers in some places to shoot prisoners in case they escape. Unconfirmed reports say at least 7 were injured. One of the main offices of the Tabriz intelligence ministry is located in this prison. Interrogations take place at this facility.

A video of an Ahvazi Arab mother crying and calling her imprisoned son by name in the Shiban prison’s vicinity infuriated Iranians

The last successful escape happened in Saqqez central prison on Friday when 70 inmates stormed the gates and made off. Sadegh Hosseini, The Chief commander of Bait Al Muqadas IRGC in Kurdistan province of Iran, said that the reason for the escape was fear of corona. The guards have deployed in the city, with the intention of locating the escapees.

On March 31st, during the protests of prisoners in Shiban prison in Ahvaz, the Revolutionary Guards and Special Forces raided the inmates and fired shots inside the prison for hours. The families of prisoners held a protest outside the prison and demanded the release of prisoners. IRGC Forces were fearful of the protest rally outside the prison and tried to disperse the protesters by attacking and firing bullets (live ammunition) and tear gas. A number of demonstrators were injured as a result of gunfire inside and outside of the prison. Eyewitnesses noted ambulances leaving the prison at night escorted by military convoys to IRGC Hospitals in Ahvaz. Ahvaz is a city in the southwest of Iran and the capital of Khuzestan province with a major Arab Population that face discrimination by the authorities concerning politics, employment and cultural rights.

A video of an Ahvazi Arab mother crying and calling her imprisoned son by name in the Shiban prison’s vicinity infuriated Iranians and they called on Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch organizations and the United Nations to stop Iran as "Iran has crossed all the red lines". Social media users tweeted hashtags such as زندان_سپيدار and زندان_اهواز.

Javaid Rehman ,Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran says "Overcrowding, poor nutrition and a lack of hygiene are also serious concerns. These issues indicate a high risk to prisoners’ health from malnutrition and disease. Recent reports indicate that the COVID-19 virus has spread inside Iranian prisons."

Hossein Pourmand, Director General of the Judiciary and Enforcement of the Prisons Organization in an interview with Iranian Mashregh newspaper April 2019 said "The number of inmates is 28% higher than the capacity of the prisons." He also added the number of prisoners in the country is 189,500. International Prison Studies Organization estimate the number is about 240 thousand Prisoners in 2018.

Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader agreed to pardon 10,000 prisoners in a letter to the head of the judiciary. prisoners who have been sentenced to less than five years will be released from prison if they have served one third of their sentences by March 18th 2020.

"According to the content of this letter, at least 125 political prisoners should be released from prison." Prisons Atlas Says.

Intensive economic problems have caused the lowering of the salaries of millions of civil servants and government employees, especially in the last two years. Observers and specialists estimate that the government won't be able to pay their employees sufficiently in the upcoming year.

An average salary of a prison guard in Iran 2020 is about 3 million toman/about $300 US dollars, which isn't enough to last even for two weeks for a family of three with their own house and vehicle in cities like Tehran and other large cities.

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