WMA Urges Iran to Stop Denying Medical Care to Prisoners

The WMA, along with other organisations involved in medical ethics and human rights, has urged the Iranian authorities to stop using the denial of medical care as a form of punishment against political prisoners being held at Raja’i Shahr Prison.

In a joint letter to Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, Head of Judiciary in Tehran, WMA President Dr. Ketan Desai refers to the ‘deliberate indifference of prison officials to prisoners’ medical needs; their refusal to transfer critically ill prisoners to hospitals outside the prison; long periods of time without hot water for washing and bathing; inadequate space; poor ventilation; unsanitary conditions; insect infestations near kitchen areas; insufficient cleaning supplies; and meagre rations of (poor quality) food. Such conditions are believed to have put inmates at risk of infection and various skin and respiratory diseases’.

Dr. Desai, and other signatories to the letter from the International Federation for Health and Human Rights Organisations, the Standing Committee of European Doctors and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, also protest about the pattern of guards beating, verbally assaulting and sexually harassing political prisoners, particularly when transferring them to and from hospital and court.

The letter goes on: ‘We are extremely concerned by this situation that precludes access to adequate medical care, a key human right which under international law and standards must not be adversely affected by imprisonment. Denying medical care amounts to ill treatments and can constitute a form of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that are unambiguously prohibited under international human rights law’.

The signatories remind the Republic of Iran that it has signed up to international covenants and rules on the “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” and the commitment 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”.

Dr. Desai and his colleagues call on the Iranian authorities to stop the denial of medical care, to protect prisoners from torture and other ill-treatment, to ensure they are treated humanely and to allow monitors to conduct inspection visits.

Finally, they urge Iran to ensure that medical decisions on care outside prison and the necessity of release on medical grounds are taken only by the responsible health care professionals and are not overruled or ignored by non-medical authorities.