Amid the unprecedented outbreak of deadly coronavirus, Iran’s judiciary has said on April 21 that it has temporarily released over 1,000 prisoners from foreign countries. The move by the Islamic Republic came as criticism by United Nations human rights experts mounted over the high risk of overcrowded jails turning into hotspots for COVID-19 outbreak. According to international reports, judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili lauded the move as “significant” in a bid to ensure the safety of inmates in the country amid pandemic.
According to reports, over 1,00,000 inmates have now been granted temporary release in order to contain the spread of the virus in its correctional facilities. British-Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also among those who were released earlier and was arrested for sedition in 2016. According to reports, her leave is now extended until May 20. Meanwhile, as of April 21, Iran has confirmed at least 84,802 cases of coronavirus with at least 5,297 casualties.
A panel of experts from the United Nations had called on Iran for releasing more inmates temporarily including “prisoners of conscience and dual and foreign nationals”. Even though Iran’s judiciary spokesperson hailed the move by his own country, in response to UN criticism, he responded by saying that experts should report what measures the US and UK have taken to ensure the safety of their detainees. Moreover, even the United States had said earlier that it would hold Iran directly responsible for any American deaths in jail and had called for the release of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners held mainly for spying.
Earlier this month, UN had urged all governments to “not forget those behind bars” and protect the staff members working in confined facilities. According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the consequences of neglecting the prison and detention centres could be “potentially catastrophic”. She acknowledged that governments around the world have been making “difficult decisions” with huge demands of resources during the pandemic. The UN official even laid out the measures the authorities could take in order to reduce risks of COVID-19 in prisons including reduction of the number of people and examination of ways to release particularly vulnerable detainees.