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Nasrin Sotoudeh’s Health Deteriorating in New Prison

November 2, 2020
Milad Pourisa
7 min read
Nasrin Sotoudeh was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison to Qarchak Prison in Varamin on Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Nasrin Sotoudeh was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison to Qarchak Prison in Varamin on Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, told IranWire that prison doctors at Qarchak had diagnosed his wife with a very serious heart problem in the past few days
Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, told IranWire that prison doctors at Qarchak had diagnosed his wife with a very serious heart problem in the past few days
Qarchak Prison is infamous for appalling conditions, poor sanitation and the maltreatment and torture of female inmates
Qarchak Prison is infamous for appalling conditions, poor sanitation and the maltreatment and torture of female inmates

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an imprisoned Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate, has been transferred to Qarchak Prison in Varamin and her health is rapidly worsening. In an interview with IranWire, her husband Reza Khandan said Ms. Sotoudeh had been diagnosed with a heart condition during a medical examination on arrival at Qarchak, but the prison authorities are refusing to send her to hospital.

 

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Nasrin Sotoudeh was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison to Qarchak Prison in Varamin on Tuesday, October 20, 2020. The move seems to have taken place under false pretenses, with the veteran human rights champion, who has been on hunger strike, under the impression that she was being taken to hospital.

Announcing the news on Twitter, her husband Reza Khandan wrote: "Today, the officers of the public ward of Evin Prison called Nasrin and told her to get ready to be sent to hospital. But on leaving the prison, she was transferred directly to Qarchak. According to experts, she should have been taken immediately to hospital for heart examinations and angiography."

Iran’s Prisons and Security Organization later published a statement in which it claimed the reason Ms. Sotoudeh was moved to Qarchak was her 12-year sentence for a "public crime:" namely, that of "promoting corruption and prostitution," which it said was "final" and should now begin to be served.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was a political prisoner from 2010 to 2013 for representing Green Movement protestors in her role as an attorney. She was then arrested again in 2018 for defending women who protested against mandatory veiling in Iran, and this time was sentenced to 33 years in prison – a punishment tantamount to a death sentence behind bars – and 148 lashes for “conspiracy against national security”, “spreading lies”, and “disturbing public opinion”, amongst other charges.

According to guidelines set out in Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, Ms. Sotoudeh must serve the heaviest of her various sentences first. She has been transferred to Qarchak, which houses violent criminals, on the pretext that this charge was a “non-political” crime. Political prisoners are generally held at Evin Prison in Tehran. Qarchak Prison is widely regarded as the worst detention center for women in Iran and has a reputation for extrajudicial killings, torture and the violation of prisoners’ rights, as well as grossly inadequate sanitation, overcrowding and a lack of clean drinking water.

 

Diagnosed With a Dangerous Heart Condition – Then Send to a New Prison

Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, told IranWire that prison doctors at Qarchak had diagnosed his wife with a very serious heart problem in the past few days. “The latest news I have about Nasrin's state of health dates back to the end of last week,” he said. “She called me and told me that she had been referred to a doctor in Qarchak Prison, and that this doctor had declared Nasrin's condition to be very serious. When she last went to hospital during her hunger strike in Evin Prison, no heart problem was diagnosed."

He went on: "Various tests at Qarchak have shown that Nasrin has a very dangerous heart condition. She’s been feeling the symptoms in recent weeks: complications such as pain in the left side of her chest, a ‘stretching’ feeling from the heart to the jugular vein, which is apparently a sign of clogged arteries.”

Ms. Sotoudeh went on hunger strike from August 12, 2020 to protest against the harsh conditions in prison, and to put pressure Iran’s judiciary to release prisoners of conscience, as it had said that it would during the coronavirus pandemic. She ended her strike on the 44th day after a drastic decline in her physical health and an initial visit to Taleghani Hospital the week before.

Now, instead of being placed on medical leave or referred for immediate hospital treatment, Ms. Sotoudeh has been moved to Qarchak prison. “The prison prosecutor just said they will send her case to forensic medicine for examination,” Reza Khandan told IranWire, “and they had to wait for an opinion before they send her to hospital. The forensic medicine team required Nasrin's documents from Taleghani Hospital and Evin Prison, which I prepared and sent to them."

Mr. Khandan accused the prison authorities of being reluctant to address his wife’s gravely serious state of health. "Nasrin's situation is urgent,” he said, “and something could happen to her at any moment.

“If the Prisons Organization had wanted to work with us to agree medical leave or my wife’s release, there would have been no need to spend a lot of time setting up a medical inquiry. We cannot wait for the outcome of this process, and we ask the authorities of Qarchak Prison to transfer Nasrin to a specialized hospital outside the prison immediately – by ambulance – by order of the prison doctor.

“The last time my wife was transferred from Evin Prison to Taleghani Hospital in the middle of the hunger strike, none of these forensic procedures helped. I think officials have proposed such a time-consuming procedure now because there is no will to resolve the problem.”

 

Human Rights Attorney ‘Did Not Have a Heart Condition Before Imprisonment’

Mr. Khandan emphasized that his wife had no history of heart problems before her most recent arrest and detention. The problem, he said, has only come to light in Qarchak and Evin Prison recently. As such, he holds the Prisons Organization accountable for any changes to her health.

"If the slightest mistake is made in transferring her to a hospital outside the prison for definitive treatment,” he said, “we face a serious risk of heart attack. And if that happens, the prison officials must face charges of premeditated murder for preventing Nasrin from being sent to the hospital [earlier].

“Her illness is not a normal illness. It is something that could cost her her life. Perhaps the authorities at Qarchak Prison are planning to send my wife on medical leave, but if this process is going to take too long, they should send Nasrin to a hospital outside the prison beforehand."

Contaminated toilets, putrid and salty drinking water, cells so full to bursting that some prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor, a lack of coronavirus containment measures and the non-segregation of prisoners based on their crimes are among the litany of issues that women prisoners in Qarchak have previously railed against. Earlier this year the jailed Australian academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, was transferred to Qarchak despite being a political prisoner in a move thought to be a punishment for her hunger strike in Evin Prison. After complaining to the authorities, she was moved back to Evin last week.

Reza Khandan is also aware of the appalling conditions in Qarchak Prison. “There is a very unpleasant smell that is impossible to tolerate,” he says. “The drinking water is said to be foul. The building itself in no way meets the architectural standards of a modern prison. It is said that many years ago, before this building was turned into a prison, it was used to keep livestock and was simply patched up and converted to very poor standards. Sickness is rippling throughout the prison building. Nowhere can you see a window through which fresh air might enter. It is really disturbing to think that a number of prisoners are living in such a suffocating and unpleasant environment, day and night."

Nasrin Sotoudeh is understood to be being held on Ward 8 of Qarchak, which Reza Khandan says is currently housing 25 detainees, of whom 17 were sentenced for political offences and eight for “ordinary” crimes. "The only thing we know about the health of the detainees here during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said, “is, as my wife explained, that one of the prisoners went to the prison medical center with a severe cough – and that the doctor fled without seeing them, for fear of contracting the virus."

 

Related coverage:

Iranian Women you Should Know: Nasrin Sotoudeh

Husband of Prominent Lawyer Arrested

Published: The Official Verdict Against Nasrin Sotoudeh

More Prisoners in Iran Join Hunger Strike

Human Rights Lawyer's Daughter Arrested by Security Agents

Human Rights Attorney Vows to Continue Hunger Strike in Prison

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