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Eighty Prisoners Escape In Iran Amid Coronavirus Epidemic

Prison in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province of Iran. FILE PHOTO
Prison in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province of Iran. FILE PHOTO

A Judiciary official of Kurdistan Province in Iran on Saturday said seven of the 70 inmates who had broken out of a prison in Saqqez on March 27 have been arrested and two more have surrendered.

On Friday evening Iranian media reported that around 80 inmates who were serving terms for common crimes had broken out of the prison in Saqqez, presumably to avoid the coronavirus epidemic in prison conditions.

Mohammad Jabbari, the Prosecutor of Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan Province, said the sentences these prisoners were serving would be commuted and their escape would not bar them from being included in the pardon Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued on the occasion of the Iranian New Year. However, if they do not voluntarily go back, a prison term for their new crime will be added to their previous sentence, he said.

According to official figures in July 2019 there were more than 189,000 inmates in Iranian prisons. The Iranian Judiciary says it has so far allowed 80,000 prisoners to go on furlough because of the coronavirus, but many of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been excluded from the temporary release from prison.

Video shows prisoners escaping the prison of Saqqez.

Iran's human rights activists say all non-violent prisoners should be allowed to go on furlough. Iranian prisons are overcrowded and sanitary and healthcare facilities are not adequate even at ordinary times.

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 Judiciary has not published a list of those who have benefited from Khamenei's pardon.

On Thursday there were also reports of unrest and shooting in the prison of Tabriz, the capital city of East Azarbaijan Province. Prison authorities, however, denied the reports. Iran Human Rights Watch, however, has reported that prisoners first refused food in protest to not being allowed to go on furlough and then set their blankets on fire which the guards stopped by firing weapons. There have been reports of similar incidents in the prisons of Aligudarz and Fashafouyeh since the outbreak of coronavirus.