Iran warns ‘MILLIONS’ of its citizens could die from coronavirus if the public ignore restrictions, as 85,000 prisoners are freed from jails and deaths spike by 135 to 988

Tuesday, March 17, 2020
By Paul Martin

The inmates released include political prisoners and ‘security-related’ prisoners held in state prisons
The UN has called for Iran to free all political prisoners held inside the country’s disease-ridden jails
It comes as deaths in the Islamic Republic spike by 135 – a 13 per cent rise – to 988
Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

17 March 2020

Iran has issued its most dire warning about coronavirus, suggesting ‘millions’ could die in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps ignoring health guidance.

A state television journalist who is also a medical doctor gave the warning after Shiite faithful pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had just been closed over fears of the virus.

The country said today it has temporarily freed around 85,000 prisoners including political detainees in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It comes as deaths in the Islamic Republic spike by 135 – a 13 per cent rise.

The coronavirus has killed 135 more people in Iran, which has raised the death toll to 988 amid 16,169 infections.

That’s according to Iran Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who gave the figure at a televised news conference today.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said half of the prisoners who were released amid coronavirus were ‘security-related prisoners’.

‘Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,’ the spokesman said.

The United Nations has warned that inmates have already been infected in Iran’s overcrowded and disease-ridden jails, and called for all political prisoners to be released.

The judiciary spokesman did not elaborate on when those released would have to return to prison.

Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak is one of the worst outside of China.

The regime has been widely criticised for its handling of the outbreak, including for its reluctance to shut down holy pilgrimage sites. Most cases across the Middle East have been linked to Iran, with many countries shutting down travel.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, urged Tehran earlier this month to free all its political prisoners.

Iran had already announced the release of 70,000 prisoners, but Rehman said only those serving sentences of less than five years had been freed.

Political prisoners and others charged with heavier sentences linked to their participation in protest marches remained in jail,’ he said.

‘A number of dual and foreign nationals are at real risk if they have not… got it [coronavirus], they are really fearful of the conditions,’ Rehman said.

‘This is also my worrying concern and therefore I have recommended to the state of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release all prisoners on temporary release,’ he said.

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