San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Expat Crime

US man with post-polio syndrome protests 'inhumane conditions' in Costa Rica prison

When Iranian-American Cyrus Sepehr was thrown into a preventive prison in Costa Rica under suspicion of fraud, he could still walk. But in just four months he’s been relegated to a wheel chair, and the left side of his body is now paralyzed, according to his attorney, José Brenes.

The 52-year-old Sepehr, who was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome (PPS) in 2014, is seeking his release from the notoriously underfunded and overcrowded San Sebastián prison south of San José, due to his illness. He and his defense team successfully have argued to Costa Rica’s Supreme Court that he does not receive enough medical attention for his PPS, which affects polio survivors by bringing back the disease’s symptoms decades after the initial virus is eliminated.

“The inhumane conditions that exist in the prisons are worsening his health – it’s [a case of] neglect of a human being,” Brenes said. “He needs constant medical attention including comprehensive physical therapy.”

Sepehr’s friends and members of his family say they will hold demonstrations in several countries Tuesday morning to raise awareness of what they call a violation of human rights. Locally, a protest will take place in front of the U.S. Embassy in San José, joining others at consulates in the U.S. states of California and Florida, the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., and in Germany.

Cyrus Sepehr, who has post-polio syndrome, says he lost about half his body weight since entering a Costa Rican prison in September 2015.

(Courtesy of Kate Sepehr)

In a phone call with The Tico Times last Friday, Sepehr said a former real estate partner is wrongfully accusing him of charging for properties that the ex-partner claims Sepehr never gave him. Sepehr said the transfer of two properties, both in Puntarenas province, was done clearly within the law and that 500,000 shares were transferred to the former partner.

The man filed a fraud complaint at the Prosecutor’s Office in San José’s and Sepehr was arrested by Interpol in Costa Rica upon arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport outside the capital, on May 3, 2014. He was then released from preventive prison on $1 million bail, he said. After being ordered to stay in the country, Sepehr collapsed and was taken to CIMA Hospital in Escazú, a southwestern suburb of San José. He remained a patient at CIMA from May 2014 to April 2015, the daily La Nación reported.

Costa Rica crime: A murky justice system?

From this point the story becomes murky, and details vary depending on whom you ask. Authorities say Sepehr illegally fled the hospital, and prosecutors accused him of violating the terms of his conditional release on bail. Sepehr and his attorney, however, both said he left the hospital legally. Sepehr then traveled to Nicaragua, where he was arrested a few months later and extradited to Costa Rica under the initial fraud charge from the San José Prosecutor’s Office.

Sepehr said that not only is he being jailed unjustly because of his deteriorating health, but also that the fraud charge against him is baseless.

“I don’t understand why a prosecutor would take a case like that,” Sepehr said. “The only thing that really explains this is their ignorance or corruption.”

According to a legal document obtained by The Tico Times, the Costa Rican Supreme Court ruled in favor of an appeal filed by Sepehr’s defense team in December 2015, stating that the Justice Ministry must provide Sepehr with proper medical attention or transfer him to a hospital.

“Conditions like overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and the absence of minimum treatment for dealing with diseases, added with the post-polio syndrome, make his stay more and more difficult,” the Supreme Court stated in its ruling on Dec. 7, 2015. Sepehr lacks the sufficient space needed for someone in his condition and even the basic medical rehabilitation necessary to combat PPS, the court added.

Sepehr told The Tico Times that nothing has changed since the Supreme Court decision, and he depends on other inmates to feed him and help him go to the bathroom because his paralysis has become severe since last September.

“The Supreme Court has already given the orders to remove him but they haven’t acted on those orders,” Brenes said. “What we’re hoping for is that they quickly resolve this situation, primarily by freeing him and putting him under house arrest while the investigation continues.”

Due to the U.S. Privacy Act, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Embassy in San José said she could not comment on Sepehr’s case or the protests planned in front of the embassy on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Sepehr said he and his wife became Costa Rican residents in 1995, and they always considered the country to be their home.

Said Sepehr: “This was home until I found out this paradise has a negative side, which is its justice department.”

Contact Michael Krumholtz at

Comments are closed.

peace and justice

Taking him out of the country is a big puzzle !!! How could he move in a wheel chair?! If you are JUST A STANDBY like us, sleep on a bed for 2 days and then try to walk around! Being on a hospital beds for nearly ONE YEAR just kills your muscles.
I have my son there in Costa Rica. Big big corruption. U ask flee risk??!!have you spoken to Cyrus?? Who are you?? He came to Costa Rica to clear his name me. Orlando. You know, everyone is waiting even the IRS from the U.S. to see what happened to all the money that’s being claimed by the other party, how was it brought or sent to Costa Rica? Who paid the $60 mil that they claim and went down to $9 mil ?!!!! Mr. Cyrus has suffered a lot and I hope he finishes the trail and the real criminals pay back. Let’s see what happens. Finally I’m glad that you agree with the unjust of our prisons. So many innocents….

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Ken Morris

Yeah, the guy seems to have tried to jump bail, so I can’t feel too sorry for him being back in the slammer. However, health care is a right to prisoners, and if this story is correct, he should receive what he needs. Not mentioned in the story is that the government is obligated to cover the health care costs for prisoners and–Guess what?–the government is in arrears.

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peace and justice

There was no bail. His first attorney who had to accept bail, was bought by the othe party and she refused bail. He was mysteriously taken from the hospital and was taken to a worse country!!

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Pita Nelson

le fue bien , en otras cárceles de otros países , hubiera , salido , con polio , con sífilis , gonorrea , sida , si un brazo , , , en serio .

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Orlando Gutierrez

The gentleman was out on bail, left the country and was arrested and returned back, I can undesrtand him not knowing the terms of his release but his lawyer??? That’s were the ineptitud falls, his own legal counsel failed him or he didn’t listen or ask him the proper questions. What guarantees can he give the authorites that he is not a flee risk? Our judges are criticise daily for their lineancy toward hard core criminals that depend on a underfunded and overworked public defender system, that his lawyer hasn’t been able to get him out of jail speaks volumes. Finally this protest about our prisons, totally legit.

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Stephen Johnson

Interesting…why isn’t anyone asking about the millions of dollars donated by the US government to Costa Rica because of the Cuban migrant crisis? Have not seen one story about this in any paper!!

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