Iran jails withhold prisoners' medical care to force confessions, Amnesty International claims

Amnesty International says there's "strong evidence" care is deliberately being withheld in some cases as a means to extract "confessions" from political prisoners, or to intimidate or punish them.

New report raises additional concerns for jailed Canadian-Iranian professor Homa Hoodfar

Canadian-Iranian scholar Homa Hoodfar has been held incommunicado in Tehran's Evin prison since June 6. She is now said to be indicted by the Iranian authorities. (Canadian Press)

As international concern mounts over the fate of a Montreal-based academic jailed in Tehran, an Amnesty International
report claims Iranian authorities regularly put political prisoners' lives at risk by denying them medical care.

The report found that prison staff withhold specialized care and medication, refuse medical releases, intentionally disrupt treatment and launch reprisals against prisoners who go on hunger strikes.

The human rights organization concludes "strong evidence" indicates care is deliberately withheld in some cases as a means to extract "confessions" from political prisoners or to intimidate or punish them.

Since Amnesty International is not allowed to operate in Iran, the report is based on  interviews with lawyers, former prisoners and other "well-placed" sources, cross-referenced with medical reports when possible.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, described the report's conclusions as "deeply troubling."

It reveals "the degree to which Iranian authorities use health care as a tool of repression, as a way to punish prisoners, as a way to force prisoners to confess, and simply as a way to further the repressive tactics that are the calling card of the Iranian government," he told The Canadian Press.

New worries for Homa Hoodfar

Although the report does not specifically mention jailed Canadian-Iranian professor Homa Hoodfar, Neve said it nevertheless raises concerns given the 65-year-old's poor state of health.

He said the retired Concordia University anthropology professor suffers from a neurological illness and had a mild stroke last year.

"Because the family has been denied access to her, as has her lawyer, we have no idea if she is receiving the medication she so desperately needs," he said.

One of Hoodfar's former students said she and Hoodfar's friends and family are "very, very concerned about her health."

Mona Tajali said her former professor suffers from a neuromuscular disease that causes severe muscle fatigue and requires daily medication.

"I'm just so worried that because this disease is not very well-known, those who have imprisoned her might think it's being made up or not a very serious condition, when in fact is is a very serious condition," she said.

Hoodfar has conducted research on Muslim women in various regions of the world.

She was first arrested in March after travelling to Iran to visit her family and conduct academic research.

Hoodfar was released on bail but rearrested in June.

Iran's semi-official ISNA and Tasnim news agencies have reported Hoodfar has been indicted on charges, but the family and federal officials say they haven't been able to corroborate that information.

Prisoners face range of violations

At least nine of the 18 prisoners whose cases are listed in the report are being held in the same notorious prison where Hoodfar has been kept since she was arrested in June on unnamed charges.

Others at Evin prison reported a range of violations that include being denied medications or tests, being returned to jail against medical advice and having their health concerns dismissed by doctors.

One man was reportedly forced to return to his cell 24 hours after cancer surgery. 

A female prisoner, Narges Mohammadi, reported being handcuffed and tied to a bed during routine medical tests.

Hossein Rafiee, a 71-year-old former university professor whose daughter is a Canadian permanent resident, is being kept in a section of the jail the report describes as "severely overcrowded, poorly ventilated, infested with insects and does not have enough beds and toilets."

Rafiee's family reported he is not getting regular medical check-ups, raising concerns he is not receiving the right dose of medication for his high blood pressure and heart condition.

Women prisoners especially at risk

The report found that women at Evin prison face additional barriers to getting access to care because medical staff at the facility are nearly all men.

"On several occasions women prisoners who experienced health problems were denied emergency medical tests or other treatment because it was deemed inappropriate for them to be treated by male medical staff," the report read.

Woman were also reportedly subjected to "sexual slurs and harassment" for failing to comply with strict veiling regulations.

Iranian officials did not respond to Amnesty's attempts to contact them, but have reportedly used local media to deny
mistreating prisoners.