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Iran Frees Prisoners Amid Pandemic


Source: RFE/RL

Iranian authorities said they have extended the temporary releases of thousands of prisoners in an attempt to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the country's overcrowded jails. Authorities said they would also temporarily free another 15,000 prisoners, bringing the total number released to 100,000.

Disinfecting Shiraz streets
(photo by ISNA)

Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the virus, with a declared death toll of 2,640 as of March 29, although experts estimate the total to be much higher.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on March 29 that the release of 15,000 more inmates on temporary releases "had already started."

He said all 100,000 prisoners would be temporarily released until April 19.

On March 17, Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners.

Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January.

In recent days there have been several prison riots and mass escapes from prisons, as inmates try to avoid the coronavirus amid substandard prison conditions.

Meanwhile, President Hassan Rohani said "the new way of life" in Iran was likely to be prolonged by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rohani told a cabinet meeting on March 29, "We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date."

"The new way of life we have adopted" is to everyone's benefit, he said, adding that "these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time."

Tehran on March 25 decided to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.

Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home "as much as possible."

Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the closure was later extended to the whole country.

The reopening of schools following this year's Persian New Year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely after Rohani's warning.

Iran has refused the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.

Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile program.

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