Labor Activist Dies From Cancer Left Untreated in Iranian Prison
Case Highlights Trend of Denial of Medical Care to Political Prisoners
Labor activist Mohammad Jarrahi has died from thyroid cancer that was left untreated while he was held as a political prisoner in Iran’s Tabriz Prison, his former lawyer, Naghi Mahmoudi, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Judicial officials were negligent in preventing treatment for his thyroid cancer and caused it to get worse,” said Mahmoudi. “The treatment he received after his release was not effective and he died.”
“In 2011, the judiciary disbarred me for defending political activists and I was not able to help Mr. Jarrahi, but I followed his case and I knew about the letters he exchanged with the authorities about his illness,” said Mahmoudi in an interview with CHRI from Germany on October 5.
“Jarrahi and Zamani both had serious medical issues and doctors had repeatedly warned about their conditions,” he added. “Despite this knowledge, the prison officials did not allow them to be transferred to the hospital and refused to grant them medical furlough.”
Furlough, temporary leave typically granted to prisoners in Iran for a variety of familial, holiday, and medical reasons, is routinely denied to political prisoners as a form of additional punishment.
Jarrahi, a construction painter who passed away at the age of 61, was arrested in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, in May 2011 along with fellow labor activist Shahrokh Zamani, who died of a heart attack in September 2015 after being denied medical care in Rajaee Shahr Prison. They were sentenced to five years in prison each for distributing labor movement newsletters and campaigning to form independent workers’ organizations.
Independent unions are not allowed to operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.
Jarrahi’s Letter to Tabriz Prison Officials
In September 2013, Jarrahi wrote a letter from Tabriz Prison to the head of the Construction Painters’ Union of Iran complaining about the denial of medical treatment for his cancer and other ailments.
“Because of my advanced age, and the bad food and poor medical care in Tabriz Prison, I have been stricken with thyroid cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol,” said the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by CHRI.
“However, the prison officials have not taken adequate measures for my treatment … and despite the recommendations of specialist physicians that I should receive medical care outside prison, the authorities have not responded to my request for release on medical grounds,” he said.
On October 5, 2017, the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported thyroid cancer as Jarrahi’s cause of death without mentioning that he was denied full medical treatment while he was imprisoned.
Jarrahi was first arrested in Tabriz in 2008 and charged with “propaganda against the state” for handing out labor leaflets. He was sentenced to a year in prison. Upon appeal “we were able to convince the court to suspend the sentence because judicial procedures were not followed correctly in his case,” Mahmoudi told CHRI.
The case of former political prisoner Alireza Rajaee, who lost part of his face due to sinus cancer that he says was left untreated while he was held in Evin Prison, has put the spotlight on the denial of medical care to political prisoners in Iran.
In September 2017, four political prisoners in Rajaee Shahr Prison were denied medical care after they went on a 30-day hunger strike to protest their forced removal to a high-security ward.
“The clinic in Evin Prison does not have specialist doctors or proper facilities to be able to help her,” her husband, Hassan Jafari, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in September 2017.
Political prisoner Omid Kokabee was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer in 2016 after years of repeatedly being denied treatment for his symptoms in Evin Prison.
On July 8, 2017, current political prisoners Atena Daemi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee wrote a joint letter about the denial of medical care in Evin Prison after foreign ambassadors were given a staged tour of certain sections of the facility.
“Did they tell you about unsanitary conditions and women’s health? Or about the conditions inside the clinic where they prescribe wrong medications? Or about using sanctions and budget cuts as an excuse for the lack of disinfectants and cleaning material?” wrote the activists.
“Have they told you that for religious reasons, male prison doctors do not check female prisoners or give them injections and blood pressure tests? Have they told you there is not even one female nurse to carry out these tasks? Do you know how many hundreds or thousands of inmates suffer from kidney problems because of the prison’s unhealthy water?” asked the political prisoners.