Iran frees 54,000 prisoners to combat spread of coronavirus

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
People walk the streets of Tehran, Iran, wearing facemasks over coronavirus fears. (AP)

Iran has taken steps to battle a spread of coronavirus in crowded jails by temporarily releasing 54,000 prisoners.

There has beeve nearly 3,000 cases of the virus, known as Covid-19, recorded in Iran, with 92 deaths – marking it among the worst-hit countries outside of China.

The country’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, told reporters today that inmates who tested negative and posted bail were being were allowed out of prison.

However, “security prisoners" sentenced to more than five years will not be let out, the spokesman added.

An Iranian man checks the temperature of a person entering an office building in Tehran. (Getty)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran since 2016, may be among those granted a temporary release following an outbreak of coronavirus in the prison where she is being held, her local constituency MP has said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released on furlough from the country's notorious Evin prison in Tehran, according to Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq.

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The MP tweeted on Tuesday morning: "News from Iranian Ambassador that my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be released on furlough today or tomorrow from prison in Iran.

"If this is true, Nazanin would welcome leaving Evin jail, but we've been here before.”

She added: "If this furlough happens, the British government has an obligation to make it permanent, and not let her be used as a bargaining chip in the weeks to come.

"I remain concerned that Nazanin has told her family that she has still not been tested for coronavirus.”

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Meanwhile, Friday prayers in Iran have been cancelled across all provincial capitals amid the country's growing coronavirus, state television said.

Friday is the main congregational day of prayer in Islam, and traditionally an important event for Iran's clerical rulers.

There are hopes that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released from prison in Iran. (Getty)

The report on Wednesday comes as Tehran and other areas cancelled Friday prayers last week over the outbreak.

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Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the new figures at a news conference in Tehran, raising Iran's death toll from the new illness to higher than Italy's, where there has also been a serious spike in infections.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 90,000 people and caused over 3,100 deaths.

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