Covid-19 Fears for 4 Baha’i Women in Prison

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Kian Sabeti

Four Baha’i citizens serving sentences in Birjand Women’s Prison are at risk of contracting coronavirus. The four prisoners, Saghar Mohammadi, Sheida Abedi, Simin Mohammadi, and Maryam Mokhtari, returned to prison on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 after a period of temporary leave, and have been in quarantine for more than three weeks and not been allowed to enter the ward. They have been barred from visitors because they have to cross the public ward in order reach the meeting room. The quarantine room has only one public telephone, and each prisoner has to wait in a queue for several hours to make a phone call.

The quarantine ward of Birjand Women’s Prison is a former  gymnasium, and currently about 120 prisoners are being held there. Due to lack of space, it is not possible for the prisoners to observe the recommended social distance. In early June, days after the women were sent back to prison, it was reported that the ward only had two usable toilets and four showers for all inmates, and each inmate had to queue for long periods to use them. In addition to personal cleaning, women prisoners also use the toilet areas to wash utensils and their babies’ diapers. There was no disinfectant in the hall except liquid soap, and the prisoners were not given masks or gloves to wear. Although some of the prisoners arrived at the facility wearing protective coverings, these items were taken from them before they entered the prison.

Following appeals from the prisoners’ husbands and their own contact with the prison administration and the National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus, three more toilets were set up for use by prisoners during the week of June 8, and masks and gloves have been distributed among prisoners. There is still no disinfectant available.

“Following the outbreak of coronavirus in Birjand Prison, Baha’i prisoners in Birjand Prison, five men and four women, were send on leave on March 2, 2020,” an Iranian Baha’i citizen told IranWire. “The prisoners were summoned back to prison on Tuesday, May 26. Four Baha’i women were taken to quarantine. Upon arrival, they found out that a number of women prisoners have fevers and chills, sore throats and aches. The problem was reported to prison officials, who ignored it. In the first week, Sheida Abedi suffered from these same complications and her illness worsened to such an extent that last Friday, she suddenly fainted from the severity of it. Three other Baha’i women caught fever and chills and a sore throat the next week.”

Prison officials sent a social worker to the quarantine room, who assured the inmates there was no problem. With the illness spreading among prisoners, on June 14, a doctor came to the ward and examined 80 patients on an outpatient basis, concluded that they had a simple cold, and giving all of them acetaminophen pills and cough syrup. Sheida Abedi and another prisoner were also tested for coronavirus, and both had a negative result.

The person IranWire spoke to said that during the last contact the prisoners had with their families, they told them that a large number of prisoners, including Baha’i prisoners, had a problem with their sense of smell and taste, a symptom associated with coronavirus.

The four prisoners who returned to prison in late May began serving their sentences in January, after being arrested along with five Baha’i men from Birjand by the Intelligence Ministry on October 21, 2017 at their homes. The nine detainees were released on bail one month later and then sentenced to six years in prison by a preliminary court on charges of membership to an illegal Baha’i organization and propaganda against the regime.

The Court of Appeals later reduced the sentences, handing down the following prison terms: Saghar Mohammadi, four years; Sheida Abedi, three years, Simin Mohammadi and Maryam Mokhtari, two years in prison each. The four Baha’i citizens were transferred to Birjand Prison on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 to serve their sentences.


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