Iran announced on Tuesday that it had temporarily freed roughly 85,000 prisoners in an attempt to control the nation’s novel coronavirus outbreak.
The extraordinary measure comes in the wake of recent reports from the United Nations (U.N.) indicating that the Chinese coronavirus has spread inside Iranian prisons.
“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 in a statement.
In his email, Esmaili noted that “some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners.” However, an Al Jazeera reporter in Tehran claimed many of the prisoners temporarily released “are likely to be protesters who were arrested during anti-government demonstrations in November.” It is not clear if the Iranian government considers these recent protesters a national security threat, as many of their cases are not tried out in the open and reports from inside the country indicate that Iranians do not enjoy due process or other legal rights.
According to the Al Jazeera reporter, “All prisoners are expected to be taken back into custody on April 3.”
Iran’s judiciary announced last week that it had temporarily freed 70,000 prisoners in a similar move to combat the Chinese coronavirus and that this release involved mostly non-violent offenders serving short term prison sentences. This action came at the urging of U.N. officials last week after they found indications that the Chinese coronavirus had begun spreading within Iranian prisons.
Also on Tuesday, Iran state television broadcast a warning that the coronavirus outbreak in Iran could kill “millions” if the Iranian public did not heed official health warnings. Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur stated:
Reports by more than 56 laboratories indicated that we have had 1,178 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Chinese coronavirus) infection in the past 24 hours … This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 16,169 as of today noon.
The official number of Chinese coronavirus cases in Iran remains unknown, and the figures provided by state media are viewed with severe skepticism by most health officials. Iran’s government has been criticized for lying about the country’s actual numbers of coronavirus deaths. Regional Iranian officials have reported higher rates in their own regions than those reported by the Health Ministry, publicly questioning the state statistics.