Coronavirus: Is It Time to Release Prisoners to Avoid Epidemic Outbreak? BBC

2020-04-10 - 1:38 ص

Bahraini Mirror: At a time several countries in the Middle East responded to the repeated calls launched by the international and local human rights organizations to release prisoners, in order to avoid the Coronavirus outbreak, other states have not yet responded and deemed that taking such step, especially with political prisoners who have different views, may represent an undesirable encouragement to their opponents to ask for more demands.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed serious concern about the overcrowded prisoners who live in unclean and unhealthy conditions, which may be the cause of a wider spread of the Coronavirus. "COVID-19 has begun to strike prisons, jails and immigration detention centers," she said in a statement. "Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views," Bachelet stressed.

On the Arab side, 14 Tunisian and Arab associations and human rights organizations expressed solidarity with the families of thousands of Arab prisoners and prisoners of conscience held in overcrowded prisons, at a time the Coronavirus epidemic is spreading.

Some countries were proactive in recognizing the overcrowded prisons and released many prisoners. Iran announced on Tuesday (March 17) that some 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, were freed as part of measures to contain the Coronavirus.

Jordan did the same, as a report by noted that the Jordanian Judicial Council decided to release 3081 convicts in cases related to civil debt, and that their release is temporary due to the state of emergency.

Also in Morocco, the Government announced that King Mohamed VI had issued a royal pardon, including 5,654 prisoners, as part of precautionary measures against the spread of the coronavirus.

On the other hand, in Egypt, where international human rights organizations have warned of the danger of the overcrowding in its prisons, there is still a widespread controversy among the families of prisoners, most of whom are political prisoners, human rights activists, supporters of the regime.

Those demanding the release of prisoners, particularly political prisoners, consider that their release amid these circumstances may avoid a large-scale Coronavirus outbreak, and that state police and judicial agencies, which deal directly with them, may also face an outbreak of epidemic among their workers, which eventually will be transmitted to wider circles of society.

However, those who reject the idea, most of whom are government supporters, argue that achieving such a demand may tempt dissidents to ask for more demands, noting that prisoners whom people want to be released are detained for terrorist crimes, a description normally given to political dissidents by the authority.

National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported police detention centers were at 150 percent of maximum capacity and that prisons were at 300 percent of maximum capacity.

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