Iran frees another 85,000 from jail in response to the coronavirus epidemic


Iran has temporarily freed another 85,000 people from jail, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, a judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday. This is the second time Iran frees prisoners in response to the coronavirus epidemic, 70,000 prisoners were freed on March 9

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus in Tehran on March 13. (AFP)

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 the security-related prisoners have been released.” 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. 

On Tuesday, the husband of jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she had been temporarily released in Iran for two weeks. 


Iran’s clerical rulers have rejected locking down cities but have advised people not to travel before Iranian new year on March 20. 

Many Iranians have ignored calls by the health authorities to stay at home, and shops and restaurants are open. Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a religious ruling prohibiting ‘unnecessary’ trips. 

“Stay at home … Shopping for the new year is like committing suicide these days,” a health ministry official told the state television, which said millions of Iranians could die of the virus if people traveled for the new year holidays. 

Mass Friday prayers have been canceled across the country, it said, and the holy Shi’ite Muslim sites and shrines in Mashhad and Qom have been closed. 

Police dispersed a group of hardline religious demonstrators who gathered late on Monday at Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and Masumeh Shrine in Qom to protest against their closure, state media reported. Two protesters had been arrested. 

Officials have blamed U.S. sanctions, reimposed on Tehran since Washington quit Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with six powers, for hampering Tehran’s fight against the coronavirus. 

Tehran has urged other countries to back its call for a lifting of U.S. sanctions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unlawful US sanctions drained Iran’s economic resources, impairing ability to fight #COVID19,”Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Tuesday. 

But sources familiar with the matter have said Washington is unlikely to ease the sanctions. 

Last week, Iran said it had asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency funding to combat the outbreak. To mitigate economic pressure on Iranians, the government has ordered delays in business tax and loan repayments until May. 

About 3 million lower-income families with no permanent jobs will also receive cash handouts up to six million rials (around $400) in four stages.




3 responses to “Iran frees another 85,000 from jail in response to the coronavirus epidemic”

  1. Niemals Avatar

    Iran faces catastrophic death toll from coronavirus.
    Iran currently has the third-highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, though many suspect the true number of corona-related illnesses and deaths there is far higher than currently known. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday it believes the actual numbers could be five times higher.

    In the city of Qom, where Iran’s first death was registered on February 19, workers have been busy digging graves. On March 12, the The Washington Post newspaper published satellite images showing hastily expanded cemeteries, with masses of graves being dug on acres of adjacent land.

    Tehran, which has the highest number of reported coronavirus deaths in the country, is the scene of government incompetence. On Sunday the country’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the army to follow instructions from President Hassan Rouhani and his government. Yet, just days earlier Khamenei had instructed the Iranian military, of which he is the commander-in-chief, to take the lead in the fight against COVID-19.
    It is unclear who is in charge and responsible.

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