Denial of Medical Care to Prisoners Condemned by WMA

The withholding of medical care from political prisoners in Iran as a form of punishment has been condemned by the World Medical Association.

In a letter to Iran’s leader, the Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei, WMA President Sir Michael Marmot referred to a recent Amnesty International report giving details of medical care being denied to political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, as a form of additional punishment, coercion or to elicit confessions.

He writes: ‘We are deeply concerned by the issues raised in this report and would like to remind you that the Islamic Republic of Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is hereby committed to implement its provisions, including article 12 recognizing “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.’

Sir Michael says the provision of adequate medical care is a key human right, which under international law must not be adversely affected by imprisonment. United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners provides that “Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status”.

He goes on: ‘Denying medical care amounts to ill treatment and can sometimes constitute a form of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that are unambiguously prohibited under international human rights law.

Sir Michael calls on the Iranian authorities to stop withholding medical care as a punishment and to ensure that security officials and prison staff, including medical staff, suspected of deliberately denying medical care are investigated and, where there is evidence, are prosecuted.

‘We furthermore call on you to ensure that medical decisions concerning the need for on-going care and observation outside prison and the necessity of release on medical grounds are only taken by the responsible health care professionals and are not overruled or ignored by non-medical authorities.

‘We appeal to your humanity and sense of justice and trust that you will take promptly all the necessary steps related to our demands.’