In a letter addressed to Iran's Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi on March 26 Amnesty International said Iranian authorities must "immediately and unconditionally" release hundreds of prisoners of conscience amid grave concerns over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran’s prisons.
"The authorities should take measures to protect the health of all prisoners and urgently consider releasing pre-trial detainees and those who may be at particular risk of severe illness or death," the letter said.
Amnesty said it is aware of the measures announced by the Iranian authorities to release some prisoners in response to the outbreak but is concerned that hundreds of prisoners of conscience remain jailed, including human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and others detained "solely for peacefully expressing their rights to freedom of expression, association and/or assembly". They should not be in detention in the first place, the letter said and warned about the health of all prisoner in Iran where several cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.
Amnesty also expressed its concern about some prisoners who "have been systematically denied adequate medical care", which could leave them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus if they contracted it in the overcrowded, unhygienic and unsanitary conditions of Iranian prisons.
The international human rights watchdog says it has documented the denial of adequate medical care as a punitive measure against prisoners of conscience.
According to Amnesty, based on human rights activists' reports from Iran, the Iranian authorities have failed to sufficiently protect prison populations from the virus where even before the outbreak of coronavirus the conditions "fell far short of international standards".
On March 19 the Spokesman of Iranian Judiciary said that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was to pardon about 10,000 prisoners "more than half of who are serving security-related jail terms". Iran does not recognize the term "political prisoner" and uses "security prisoners", for regime opponents, prisoners of conscience and those arrested for participation in protests.
The Judiciary has also said that it has granted furlough to around 85,000 inmates but despite public pleas of human rights organizations and activists many of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been refused furlough.