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Iran prisoners killed in coronavirus jail protests: Amnesty

Rights groups says authorities at several prisons responded to protests with live ammunition, killing around 35 inmates
Amnesty said thousands of inmates in at least eight prisons in Iran had held demonstrations in recent days (AFP)

Amnesty International has said that more than 30 prisoners are feared to have been killed by Iranian security forces during protests over coronavirus safety concerns.

The UK-based organisation said in a statement on Thursday that thousands of inmates in at least eight prisons in Iran had held demonstrations in recent days.

Citing "credible sources," Amnesty said authorities at several facilities responded with live ammunition and tear gas, killing some 35 inmates and wounding hundreds of others. 

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It also alleged security forces beat protesters in at least one prison.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, called the Iranian authorities' response to the prison demonstrations "abhorrent".

"Instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from Covid-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns," she said.

Eltahawy called for "an independent investigation into the torture and deaths in custody" and urged security forces in Iran to "refrain from punishing prisoners calling for their right to health".

Hunger strikes

Iran, one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, reported on Friday that the total death toll from the outbreak had risen to 4,232 with 122 lives lost in the past 24 hours.

The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,972 in the same period to 68,192, Kianoush Jahanpur, a health ministry spokesman, said on state TV. Jahanpur added that 3,969 people were in a critical condition.

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There has been speculation abroad that the country's real numbers could be higher.

Reports have also surfaced of several prison riots and jail breaks in Iran in recent weeks.

Last month, a judicial spokesman said that authorities had temporarily released 100,000 detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease.

Amnesty cited reports of inmates testing positive for Covid-19, and said prisoners had been staging hunger strikes over a lack of measures, including testing and quarantine.

The rights group urged Iran to release prisoners of conscience, along with people in pre-trial detention and those most at-risk from the virus. 

Last week, the United Nations voiced outrage over the death of a juvenile offender after reported beatings by guards at an Iranian prison following a riot.

The UN rights office said inmates at the Mahabad prison in West Azerbaijan province were protesting against "prison conditions and the failure of the authorities to temporarily release them amid the Covid-19 pandemic".

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