Nicosia -

Amnesty International called on Iran on Friday to probe allegations of abuses against female prisoners by their guards, saying nine women inmates were on hunger strike in response to the mistreatment.

The women, held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, include activists and journalists who say they were subjected to humiliating and degrading body searches by female guards who also confiscated their personal belongings, Amnesty said.

“The prison authorities must investigate the women's allegations that they were subjected to degrading treatment and hold anyone found responsible to account,” Ann Harrison, deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“These women are being held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. They should not be in prison at all and on no account should they be subjected to degrading treatment. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Amnesty said these nine women plan to continue their hunger strike until they receive a formal apology from the prison authorities and guarantees that such incidents will not be repeated.

It also reiterated a call for allowing family visits to human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who has been on hunger strike since October 17.

Since her arrest in 2010, Sotoudeh was held for a lengthy period in solitary confinement and has been regularly prevented from face-to-face meetings with her family, including her two children or making phone calls to other relatives, the watchdog said.

On Thursday, a group of independent UN experts urged Iran to release Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi, winners this year of the European Parliament's Sakharov rights prize.

Sotoudeh, 47, is a leading human rights campaigner known for representing opposition activists thrown behind bars after Iran's disputed June 2009 presidential election, as well as women and juveniles facing the death penalty.

Panahi was arrested for a documentary he tried to make on the unrest following the 2009 election. He was later sentenced to six years in jail and banned from making films for 20 years. - Sapa-AFP