Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

At least 200,000 prisoners to be released worldwide due to Coronavirus outbreak

The UN urged governments to release older and more vulnerable inmates

Inmates praying after they were released due to concerns of coronavirus in Majene, Indonesia. AFP
Inmates praying after they were released due to concerns of coronavirus in Majene, Indonesia. AFP

Governments worldwide are releasing prisoners in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus in jail populations.

Experts have expressed concern at the spread of the disease in prisons, where those detained are often in close quarters and staff are also at risk.

"Covid-19 has begun to strike prisons, jails and immigration detention centres, as well as residential care homes and psychiatric hospitals, and risks rampaging through such institutions' extremely vulnerable populations," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month.

"Authorities should examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders."

Turkey and Iran are set to release tens of thousands of prisoners, while other countries like Morocco and the UK will release older prisoners or those with less time left to serve.

Iranian news services claim the country has released over 100,000 prisoners as it struggles with the outbreak. The health ministry said on Saturday that the Islamic republic’s death toll had reached 3,452 among a total of 55,743 infected people. The daily toll has been rising by at least 100.

On Sunday, King Mohammed VI of Morocco pardoned 5,654 prisoners selected on the basis of humanitarian and objective criteria. The beneficiaries will be subject to the supervision, medical tests and quarantine needed in their homes to ensure their safety.

Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prison system, which has capacity for 10,000 but is holding 26,000 inmates. In an attempt to ease the crush and protect prisoners from coronavirus, the country has released 2,961 on bail since March 17.

Next week, the Turkish parliament is set to consider a draft law to free 90,000 prisoners, a third of the population of the country’s overcrowded prisons.

It will concern several categories of prisoners, among them pregnant women and older people with medical conditions, but excludes sex offenders, murderers and political prisoners.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders accused Algeria's government of taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to "settle scores" with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune pardoned 5,037 prisoners on April 1, but the amnesty was not extended to the dozens of supporters of the anti-government protest Hirak movement.

Afghanistan last week announced it would set free 10,000 prisoners in response to the UN response.

Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore on Thursday pardoned 1,207 prisoners in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the poor West African country.

The freed prisoners "were chosen on the basis of their advanced age, their state of health and the completion of half their sentence", Communications Minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou said. No one convicted of "acts of organised crime or terrorism" was released.

Kenya confirmed 110 Covid-19 cases and three deaths and released 3,837 prisoners to decongest correctional facilities.

Last month, Italy announced plans to release up to 3,000 low-risk inmates serving sentences of less than 18 months to house arrest to reduce overcrowding.

But Italian civil liberties group Antigone argued on Thursday that another 10,000 prisoners should be allowed to serve their sentences at home, including those with existing health conditions for which a coronavirus infection "could be fatal".

Indonesia, whose prisons have been criticised for unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, has released 18,000 inmates, authorities said last week.

The mass release came days after the country said it would free more than 30,000 inmates to take pressure off prisons and jails beset by unsanitary conditions and long at risk of infectious diseases.

The UK announced on Saturday it was planning to release up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales, most on electronic tag systems to keep track of their whereabouts.

The decision came three weeks after the country’s Prisoners’ Advice Service called for the release of prisoners over the age of 75, those over 50 convicted of non-violent crimes, those with disabilities and with less than a year left to serve, comparing conditions in UK prisons to stricken cruise ships with infected passengers on board.

Updated: April 5, 2020 04:27 PM

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