Dubai: Though temporarily, Iran has freed about 85,000 prisoners from its jails, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, a judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday. Iran has reported 16,169 coronavirus cases and 988 deaths from the virus in one of the worst national outbreaks outside China, where the pandemic originated.
“So far, some 85,000 prisoners have been released ... Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said. Asked whether political prisoners were among those freed, he told a briefing aired by state television: “Yes, about 50% of them were security-related prisoners.” He did not say when those freed must return to jail.
Iran announced the release of 70,000 prisoners on March 9 in response to the virus, but none were political detainees. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said then that he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from the country’s overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help contain the spread of the virus.
Rehman said only those serving sentences of less than five years had been freed, while prisoners charged with heavier sentences and those linked to participation in anti-government protests remained in jail. Rights activists say the Islamic Republic has freed at least a dozen political prisoners in the past few days but that the most prominent political prisoners remain incarcerated.
Before the March 9 release, Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report Rehman submitted to the Human Rights Council in January. They are believed to include hundreds arrested during or after anti-government protests in November. The United States has urged Iran to free dozens of dual nationals and foreigners held mainly on spying charges, saying Washington would hold the Tehran government directly responsible for any American deaths.
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