Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, a spokesman for its judiciary said on Tuesday, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
“Some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners ... Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” said Gholamhossein Esmaili.
On March 10, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran said he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from its overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help stem the spread of coronavirus.
Iran’s response criticized
The Iranian government has been criticized for its response to the crisis.
After reports of the initial outbreak in the city of Qom, US Secretary Mike Pompeo voiced his concern that the authorities were suppressing the real numbers. Pompeo's comments followed the MP from Qom, who said that the number of infections were far higher than the official tally.
On Thursday, the head of US Central Command accused Iran of underreporting numbers of coronavirus cases in the country.
Iranian officials had previously been seen spraying chemicals on the streets.
Regime urges people to stay at home
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously provoked criticism when he described the outbreak as “not that big of a deal.”
However, the regime has since changed its tone and sought to tackle the crisis with measures including establishing checkpoints between cities. On Monday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to stay at home to avoid spreading the disease.
“We advise all people to avoid leaving their homes and traveling as much as possible,” said Rouhani.
Rouhani had said on February 25 that “everything will go back to normal as of February 29.” He had also been firmly against implementing a lockdown on Iranian cities amid the coronavirus outbreak.