Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said will pardon 10,000 more prisoners in an apparent effort to combat the new coronavirus, state TV reported Thursday.
Earlier, the country has released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave to curb the spread of COVID-19 that has killed more than 1,000 people in Iran.
The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most in Iran or originating from Iran.
Iran’s Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour warned Iranian in a social media post that the virus infects 50 Iranians on average every single hour and that “one dies every 10 minutes.”
“Make smart decisions about travel, visits and meetings,” he wrote on Twitter, as highways remained crowded with people traveling to see family ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
State TV quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying that 10,000 prisoners — among them an unknown number of inmates whose cases are political and related to activism or speech — would be granted amnesty under a decree by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on the occasion of Nowruz, the Associated Press reported.
“Those who will be pardoned will not return to jail … almost half of those security-related prisoners will be pardoned as well,” Esmaili said earlier on Wednesday.
Among those temporarily freed was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticized charges.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in 2016 on charges of trying to topple the government while traveling with her toddler daughter.
Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report that the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, submitted to the Human Rights Council in January.
They are believed to include hundreds arrested during or after anti-government protests in November, Reuters reported.
The coronavirus outbreak has prompted calls from the United Nations and the United States for political prisoners, including dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, to be released from Iran’s overcrowded and disease-ridden jails.
Washington has warned Iran that it would hold the Tehran government directly responsible for any American deaths in jail.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners over recent years, including citizens of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Lebanon.
However, Tehran denies it holds people on political grounds, and has mainly accused foreign prisoners of espionage.