As the death toll due to coronavirus reaches more than 988 in Iran, the Islamic Republic’s judiciary spokesperson said on March 17 that it has temporarily freed at least 85,000 prisoners including political detainees in the wake of the pandemic. The fatal virus which had originated in China in December 2019, has also infected more than 16,000 people in Iran, making it one of the worst national outbreaks outside the mainland.
According to reports, the judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili has also said that only the prisoners who were serving sentences less than five years have been freed, while the political leaders and others who were jailed for charges linked to participation in anti-government protests are still serving sentence. He also said that even in order to contain the drastic spread of COVID-19, precautions have also been taken in jail. Moreover, Esmail has reportedly not mentioned when will the prisoners return to jail.
According to reports, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations in Iran, Javaid Rehman had asked Tehran on March 10 to release all its political prisoners temporarily from its overcrowded and disease-ridden jails in order to contain the spread of coronavirus. In the past days, according to activists and rights groups, the Iranian authorities released at least a dozen political prisoners. However, prominent political prisoners still remain in jail.
Moreover, even the United States had said that it would hold 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. Moreover, the cleric rulers in Iran have also rejected to lock down major cities even as the death toll is rising by the day. However, they have urged Iranians to limit travel ahead of the New Year on March 20.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus as a global pandemic after the virus spread to more than 162 countries, resulting in the deaths of more than 7,100 people worldwide. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom further even urged all nations to get very serious over the issue and take all necessary measures to contain the virus from spreading at this rate. Tedros said, that the word 'Pandemic' cannot be used lightly or carelessly due to its strong connotation.
However, Tedros also said that the coronavirus outbreak is a "controllable pandemic". According to a statement released by the World Health Organisation, Tedros outlined two main reasons as to why the decision was taken to describe the epidemic as a pandemic. Tedros said that one reason was the speed and scale of transmission and the others was because 'countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it'.