Iran has temporarily released some 85,000 prisoners, including political detainees, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the government said today.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said half of those released were “security-related prisoners.” “Also, in prisons, we took precautionary measures to deal with the outbreak,” said the spokesman.
The United Nations warned that prisoners were already infected in overcrowded and disease-prisons and called for the release of all political prisoners. The judiciary spokesman did not give details on when the freedmen would have to return to prison.
The number of deaths from the coronavirus in Iran reached 853 and a total of 14,991 people were confirmed infected in one of the worst outbreaks outside China.
The regime has been widely criticized for the way at which they handle the outbreak, including for refusing to close sacred pilgrimage sites. Most cases in the Middle East are linked to Iran, with many countries disrupting travel.
Javaid Rehman, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, asked Tehran earlier this month to release all of its political prisoners.
Iran has already announced the release of 70,000 prisoners, but Rehman said that only those serving sentences of less than five years have been released.
Political prisoners and others accused of heavier sentences related to their participation in protest marches remained in prison, ” he said. “A number of double and foreign citizens are at real risk, if they have not … understood [coronavirus], they are really afraid of the conditions,” said Rehman.
“This is also my worrying concern and therefore I have recommended to the state of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release all prisoners with temporary release,” he said.
Iran previously said it had 189,500 prisoners, according to the report that Rehman submitted to the Human Rights Council in January. They are believed to include hundreds of prisoners during or after protests against the government in November.
In a February report, Rehman described how overcrowded and unhygienic conditions were causing the spread of infectious diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis C.
The United States also urged Iran to release political prisoners, including Americans arrested for spying. “The United States will directly blame the Iranian regime for any American deaths,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in early March.
In response, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tehran had similar concerns about several dozen Iranians held in U.S. prisons, mainly for violating sanctions. “The state of the United States’ prisons and their health situation are worrying … we are ready to bring Iranian prisoners in America back to Iran,” said spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
The American authorities must pay close attention to the health conditions of the Iranians who have been taken hostage in America. They were arrested without any legal basis. ‘Pompeo said that any nation that offers aid to Tehran should seek a reciprocal humanitarian gesture to release prisoners.
Washington has long demanded that Iran release U.S. citizens, including father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, navy veteran Michael White and former FBI agent Robert Levinson.
Tehran denies that it detains people for political reasons and has mainly accused foreign prisoners of spying. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have peaked since the U.S. drone attack that killed General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
There were also fears for British Iranian prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said she was suffering from a ‘strange cold.’ He described her as suffering from continuous cold sweat and feeling nauseous in her prison in Tehran.
A group that campaigned for his release from custody on espionage charges later said he was recovering, but had not been properly tested. Italian prisons also saw riots in the prison after they told inmates that they could not see relatives for fear of viruses.