A lawsuit brought by two Iranian lawyers has accused Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of mishandling the Coronavirus pandemic. The action was filed on March 6 in Iran.
Iran remains the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic. Official government data hold that more than 7 million people have been infected with Covid and at least 139,000 people in Iran have died from the virus. However medical experts in Iran say the numbers are likely to be much higher.
The Iranian government has been condemned for its handling of the pandemic — in particular its slow and disjointed implementation of restrictions and lockdowns. Officials have also been criticized for refusing to accept US-made vaccines which are forbidden in Iran. On Feb. 22, Tehran returned 820,000 doses donated by Poland because they were produced in the US.
The 22-page complaint — raised by attorneys Arash Keykhosravi and Mohammad Reza Faghihi — alleged that Khamenei and several senior officials had been grossly negligent in their response to the pandemic. The document contained several charges against officials, including: “causing the indirect deaths of more than 100,000 Iranians; the misuse of power and authority and lack of action in enforcing laws; spreading falsehoods and erroneous reports to the people; and ignoring the experiences of the international health community in fighting the coronavirus disease,” according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a non-governmental organization.
The lawsuit called for named officials to be “investigated, charged, fairly prosecuted and given the highest prison sentences,” CHRI said.
Keykhosravi and Faghihi are part of a group of lawyers and civil rights campaigners called the “health defenders” on social media who are critical of the Iranian government’s response to the pandemic. The lawyers are currently facing prison sentences for raising the complaint after their detention in August on national security charges as they tried to file the lawsuit. Both men are out on bail pending the outcomes of their trials.
Shiva Mahbobi, a London-based human rights defender and spokesperson for the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI), told Kayhan Life that the lawsuit hadn’t acknowledged prisoners in Iran despite being disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“What these lawyers have done is unprecedented and very brave, because it’s one thing to complain about individual cases and another to put in a complaint about Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the regime,” Mahbobi said. “I think the issue of prisoners catching Covid in Iran’s jails should have been included in the lawsuit. These prisoners have no voice and cannot put in a legal complaint of their own or ask for anything because they will be punished.”
Conditions inside Iran’s prisons remain poor. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Javaid Rehman, raised concerns about the state of the country’s prisons in his latest report, which will be presented on March 17 to the UN Human Rights Council.
In his briefing, Rehman said that there had been reports about the high number of infections in the women’s wards in Evin prison and an ongoing failure to provide sufficient medical care for prisoners infected with the virus. Rehman said he “regrets the continued ill-treatment by prison guards, overcrowding, and hygiene deficiencies in prison, as detailed in previous reports.”
“If what is going on outside of Iran’s prisons is horrible, multiply that by several thousand, because prisoners are living at close quarters without any protective measures,” Mahbobi said.
Mahbobi launched a campaign on Jan. 28 to raise awareness about the lack of medical care for prisoners who contract Covid in Iran. At the same time, she published a press release about ongoing prisoner protests inside Evin prison.
The protests were in response to the death of writer and poet Baktash Abtin who died after catching the virus. In the release Mahbobi said protesters in Evin had called for prison officials to be held accountable for Abtin’s death and “the deliberate negligence and deprivation of political prisoners from medical treatment.”
Former political prisoner and British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori told Kayhan Life in an audio recording from Evin prison in 2020 that guards had failed to follow measures designed to contain the virus, leaving the jail in a state of chaos. Ashoori described soldiers wearing worn-out gloves, no-one wearing masks, and no temperatures being taken inside the prison.
Iran is experiencing its sixth wave of coronavirus infections and officials say the highly infectious Omicron variant is now the dominant strain in the country.