March 18, 2011
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into reports that up to 14 people were killed in a disturbance in a jail near Tehran this week.
The incident at the overcrowded Qezel Hesar prison in Karaj occurred on Tuesday night when clashes broke out involving prisoners and prison guards. The Prisons Chief said that a judicial investigation has been launched.
“Such a high death toll is extremely worrying. Prison officials have a responsibility to maintain order and to protect the lives of prisoners, but must exercise restraint,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“A prompt inquiry into these deaths is essential but it must be independent and transparent, as international human rights standards require, such as those set out in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Body of Principles for the protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.
“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 the Iran.”
Prison authorities said the riot was sparked by death row prisoners and drug-trafficking and possession offenders committing arson and other destructive acts in an attempt to escape, as well as attacking prison guards.
However, human rights activist groups told Amnesty International the prisoners were protesting at poor conditions and attempts to transfer some of the inmates for execution.
One activist based abroad said he had been in contact with a prisoner from inside Section 2 of prison until the early hours of Wednesday, when the phone lines were cut.
“The prisoners took over Sections 2 and 3 of the prison,” the activist told Amnesty International.
“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.”
There are reports that at least six people died from gunshot wounds and over 100 may have been injured, with some dying in – or on the way to – medical centres.
Iranian State Television reportedly said on Wednesday that 14 people had died, including at least nine prisoners, and 33 had been injured. Prison guards may have also been among the fatalities.
“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,” added Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.