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18th July 2016, 12:45:41 UTC

In April 2016, prisoner of conscience Omid Kokabee, a 33-year-old physicist sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment underwent surgery to remove his right kidney, which had become badly damaged by advanced cancer. The news of his ill-health triggered a global wave of sympathy and outrage, particularly as it was revealed that he had complained of kidney problems for nearly five years but the authorities had kept denying him adequate medical care including diagnostic tests.

In the days that followed his surgery, a picture from an earlier period of hospitalization in November 2015 that showed the frail young scientist being chained to his hospital bed circulated online, sending further shock waves through social media. The picture encapsulated the cruelty of a criminal justice system in which prison and judicial authorities recklessly ignore the medical needs of prisoners.

Iran’s criminal justice system is notorious for imprisoning people merely for peacefully exercising their human rights. However, the legal framework relating to the rights of prisoners guarantees, in theory, that they should at least benefit from adequate medical care. Iran’s prison regulations require the prison administration to provide prisoners with regular medical check-ups, and ensure that their medical needs are addressed. They also provide that prisoners may be granted medical leave or transferred to treatment centres outside prison when the care they need is not available in prison. Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure further authorizes judges to postpone the implementation of a prison sentence when imprisonment would exacerbate the illness of the prisoner, or to issue an alternative sentence if the individual is deemed too ill to serve.

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