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UN urges Iran to halt finger amputations of eight prisoners

United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani urges Iranian authorities to call off the planned amputations
A picture taken on 2 September 2014 in Tehran shows a wax statue of a detainee displayed in a cell of the "Qasr prison", a former prison hosting political prisoners that was turned into a museum in 2012 (AFP)

The United Nations has urged Iran to scrap plans to amputate the fingers of eight prisoners who were jailed for stealing, and called on the Islamic Republic to do away with any form of corporal punishment.

"We are deeply concerned by the likely imminent amputation of the fingers of eight men convicted of burglary in Iran and urge the Iranian authorities to call off the planned amputations," UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We also call on Iran to urgently revise its criminal penalties to do away with any form of corporal punishment, including amputations, flogging and stoning, in line with its obligations under international human rights law."

At least three of the eight men were convicted based on "torture-tainted 'confessions'," rights group Amnesty International has said.

Two of the detainees ended their hunger strikes earlier this month after officials assured them they would be pardoned. But as of now, they haven't been.

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According to the UN, all eight men were sentenced to "have four fingers on their right hands completely cut off so that only the palms of their hands and their thumbs are left."

Seven of the men are currently being held at the Greater Tehran Central Prison and the whereabouts of one of them, Rostami, are unknown after he was transferred from the prison on 12 June, the UN rights office said in a statement. 

All of them are likely to be transferred to Tehran's Evin Prison, where reports indicate a finger-cutting guillotine was recently installed and reportedly used on 31 May to amputate the fingers of one other prisoner. 

A first attempt to transfer the men took place on 11 June but was halted because of resistance from other prisoners.

According to the UN statement, Iranian civil society organisations reported that at least 237 people have been sentenced to have amputations between 1 January 2000 and 24 September 2020, and that sentences have been carried out in at least 129 cases.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International criticised the amputations of fingers, calling it a "heinous punishment" and "abhorrent assault on human dignity".

"Amputating prisoners' fingers is a form of torture, and is yet another shocking reminder of the shameless inhumanity of the criminal justice system in Iran, which legalizes torture, a crime under international law," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Carrying out such heinous punishments is not justice – it is an abhorrent assault on human dignity. The Iranian authorities must immediately quash the convictions and amputation sentences of these eight men and grant them fair retrials without resorting to corporal punishments."