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Iran frees thousands of prisoners as covid-19 spreads

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Iran has freed thousands more prisoners, including those charged with political offences, in hope of controlling the spread of coronavirus.

“So far, some 85,000 prisoners have been released,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said on Tuesday. “Also in the jails, we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak.”

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, those serving sentences of five years or less are temporarily released whereas those with longer sentences remain in custody.

Those who have been temporarily released are expected to be returned to prison on the 3rd April.

The news comes as the death toll from the virus has reached 988 in Iran. Yesterday, it was announced that Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, a member of the religious body which appoints the supreme leader, had died. At least 12 Iranian politicians and bureaucrats have passed away with a further 13 undergoing treatment or quarantine.

Iran has been reluctant to impose measures enacted by other hard-hit countries, with President Hassan Rouhani refusing on Sunday to announce a general quarantine. Concerns have been raised that the public is ignoring even those measures that are being put in place. “Stay at home … Shopping for the new year is like committing suicide these days,” a representative of the health ministry said on state television.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa banning unnecessary travel. Mass Friday prayers have been cancelled and access to Shi’ite holy sites in Mashhad and Qom has been suspended.

The country’s leadership has called upon the US to lift sanctions re-imposed since Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action despite Iran’s full compliance with the deal. It has also asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion emergency funding.

In spite of traditionally hostile relations, the United Arab Emirates have sent Iran 32 tonnes of medical equipment.

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