Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, a judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday.
The number of deaths in Iran from coronavirus has risen to 988 and a total of 16,169 people have been confirmed infected across the country, 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.
“Yes, about 50% of them were security-related prisoners,” he said when asked at a briefing aired by state TV whether political prisoners were among those freed.
He did not elaborate on when those released would have to 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 UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said then that he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from its overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help contain the spread of coronavirus.
Javaid Rehman said only those serving sentences of less than five years had been freed, while prisoners charged with heavier sentences and those linked to their 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 9th release, Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to the 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 called for Iran to free dozens of dual nationals and foreigners held mainly on spying charges, saying that Washington would hold the Tehran government directly responsible for any American deaths.