02 March 2020

Denying healthcare is a human rights issue?

As the world lurches towards a global coronavirus pandemic, the media feeds the public's paranoia with sensationalist stories. Sensationalist press headlines such as "One in ten Britons could end up in hospital with coronavirus" - note the word “could” - and "Plans emerge for a Hyde Park morgue" set the tone. There’s no doubt that the coronavirus is a major health concern, but one that warrants a measured response. It's hard for a government to find a balance between ensuring all necessary measures are put in place to deal with the outbreak whilst not alarming people unnecessarily. In the UK they seem to have got it about right.

Before we all panic buy soap and toilet paper and prepare for the apocalypse, lets spare a thought for those in countries less capable of taking the required precautions. Take for example countries in Africa, the Far East, and the Middle East. We’ve seen the Iranian Health Minister appear on TV coughing and mopping his brow, only to confirm a day later he’d succumbed to the virus. It later came out that Iran had a major outbreak. Over the weekend it was reported that the prison where a lot of political prisoners are being held, including Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, has the virus.

Evin Prison Tehran
These prisons already have poor healthcare, and with many prisoners having underlying health conditions, the chances of them suffering the most extreme form of the virus are high. Over the weekend it was reported that Nazanin suspected she had the virus, yet the Iranian authorities continue to deny her even the most basic healthcare. This despite her frail mental and physical state. Her husband and family are deeply concerned for her welfare.

When it comes to health care, it is a human right. It doesn't matter if a prisoner has the coronavirus or something more minor. They are entitled to whatever if the norm to other citizens. Admittedly the quality of healthcare in the UK is different from that available in Iranian prisons, but denying whatever level is available is a denial of that person's rights.

Denying a prisoner access to healthcare is a tactic often used with political prisoners. Amnesty International's latest annual report says:
"In Iran prison authorities used prolonged solitary confinement or denial of medical care to punish prisoners held for politically motivated reasons. Such practices violate the prohibition of torture and other ill treatment."
Nazanin’s case is far from unique. There are many foreign nationals held in Iran, often on trumped up charges. Most are Iranians with dual nationality, something Iran fails to recognise. Others are businessmen accused of spying, but with precious little evidence to back this up. In many of these cases, it seems like Iran is using these cases as bargaining chips against the west. There is precious little reason for this cruel incarceration, other than to force the West to ease the economic sanctions imposed on it.

Whatever the reasons, we must ensure we put as much pressure on the Iranian government as possible. This means ensuring our governments do all they can to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. The case of Nazanin is being raised yet again this week in the UK Parliament. This is good, but feels like throwing stones at a nuclear bunker. What Nazanin and the other foreign nationals need is a concerted campaign of diplomatic pressure.

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