The Iranian regime is "callously toying with the lives of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners by denying them adequate medical care, putting them at grave risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to their health," Amnesty International said on Monday.

A new report by Amnesty International published today, July 18, 2016, called "Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons", provides a grim snapshot of health care in the regime’s prisons.

It presents strong evidence that the regime's judiciary, in particular the Office of the Prosecutor, and prison administrations deliberately prevent access to adequate medical care, in many cases as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate, punish or humiliate political prisoners, or to extract forced “confessions” or statements of “repentance” from them, the human rights group said.

“In Iran a prisoner’s health is routinely taken hostage by the authorities, who recklessly ignore the medical needs of those in custody. Denying medical care to political prisoners is cruel and utterly indefensible,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“Prisoners’ access to health care is a right enshrined in both international and Iranian law. When depriving a prisoner of medical care causes severe pain or suffering and it is intentionally done for purposes such as punishment, intimidation or to extract a forced ‘confession’, it constitutes torture,” he added.

The report details 18 appalling cases of prisoners who have been denied medical care in some form and are at risk of suffering permanent damage to their health.

The report provides a deeply disturbing image of the Office of the Prosecutor, which in Iran is responsible for decisions concerning medical leave and hospital transfers. The Office of the Prosecutor often refuses to authorize hospital transfers for sick prisoners even though the care they need is not available in prison, and denies requests for medical leave for critically ill prisoners against doctors’ advice.

Amnesty International’s research found that in some cases prison officials had also violated prisoners’ rights to health, or were responsible for torture or other ill-treatment. In several cases, they withheld medication from political prisoners or unnecessarily used restraints such as handcuffs and leg shackles on political prisoners, interfering with their medical treatment, bruising theirs hands and feet or causing them discomfort and humiliation.

Prisoners interviewed by Amnesty International also said that prison doctors were sometimes complicit in the abuse. They said some prison doctors consistently downplayed or outright dismissed their health problems as “figments of their own imagination” and treated serious conditions with painkillers or tranquillizers.

The report reveals that women political prisoners, at least in Tehran’s Evin Prison where the clinic is entirely staffed by male doctors and nurses, face additional barriers to accessing medical care. On several occasions women prisoners, who experienced health problems, were denied emergency medical tests or other treatment because it was deemed inappropriate for them to be treated by male medical staff. Women were also subjected to sexual slurs and harassment for failing to comply with strict veiling regulations.

“The Iranian authorities and in particular the prosecution authorities have displayed a chilling ruthlessness in their attitude towards sick prisoners. They are toying with individuals’ lives with devastating, lasting consequences to their health,” said Luther.

“Iran’s authorities must immediately stop using the denial of medical care as a form of punishment or coercion and ensure all people in custody are able to access adequate health care without discrimination.”

Many political prisoners suffering from health conditions have felt that they have had no choice but to go on hunger strike to compel the authorities to provide them with medical care, Amnesty International said. Hunger strikes are usually greeted with indifference but in some cases the authorities have eventually granted the hunger striker short-term medical leave, then forced them to interrupt their treatment by returning them to prison after a brief period against medical advice.

In some cases prisoners were punished for going on hunger strike, it said.

Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian regime to immediately stop denying prisoners access to adequate medical care, in line with its international obligations. The authorities must investigate the prosecution authorities and all other officials – including medical staff – who may be involved in deliberately denying medical care to prisoners, the rights group said.

Scores of political prisoners affiliated to the main Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) have gone on hunger strike on many occasions in the past year in protest inhumane conditions and duress in the regime’s prisons. There have also been continuous reports on the mistreatment of other political prisoners from ethnic and religious minorities, in particular Kurdish and Sunni prisoners.

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