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Iran minister urges release of political prisoners to stop coronavirus spread

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, urged the state judiciary to temporarily release political prisoners to prevent them getting infected with the coronavirus, and allow them to spend the duration of the outbreak with their families, in a video posted online yesterday.

Fears of an outbreak within the prison were sparked after prisoners protested plans to transfer them to Ward 4, where as many as three inmates are suspected of having contracted coronavirus.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is reportedly investigating the claims, which are yet to be confirmed.

Sherry Ashoori, whose husband, Anoosheh Ashoori, 65, has been jailed by Iranian authorities for 12 years, said that a bus dropping off prisoners around Tehran stopped at the Taleqani Hospital to leave a patient, according to a report by the Guardian.

Families of political prisoners in Iran published a petition on Monday urging the release of their relatives and calling on officials “to put all prisons under quarantine in order to stop the spread of this dangerous disease among the prisoners”.

The petition stated that “given the very worrying news about the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s prisons, we the families of 14 political prisoners held in Mashad, Tehran and Kashan prisons… call on the state to release them or grant them furlough, especially the women prisoners, as soon as possible to prevent a great humanitarian catastrophe.”

At the time of writing, the petition had received 90 signatures, including 25 verified, and 65 unverified.

The Iranian judiciary said, in a statement from spokesman Gholan Hossein Ismaili, that measures were being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons. Adding that the number of people being sent to jail during the outbreak would be cut, and some inmates would be allowed temporary early release.

Iran’s infection tally stands at 139, with 19 confirmed deaths and zero recovered patients, in the deadliest outbreak outside China. Deaths and infections have been centred in the religious city of Qom, with authorities yet to put the city under quarantine.

In a televised press conference in Tehran on Monday, Health Minister Saeed Namaki defended the government’s decision not to quarantine the city of Qom, calling the containment technique an “old method”.

Namaki added that the government “[believes] the people are cultured enough to refrain from travelling from infected cities to other places”. Though infections in six countries across the Middle East have been linked to the outbreak in Iran.

Harirchi’s video also confirmed that the deputy minister has tested positive for coronavirus, after he was seen coughing and sweating during Monday’s press conference.

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