20 March 2020 :
The Spokesman of Iran’s Judiciary on 19 March 2020 said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will pardon about 10,000 prisoners “more than half of who are serving security-related jail terms”. Iranian media on 18 March reported that Khamenei had agreed with the request of the Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi to pardon some prisoners excluding those serving terms of more than five years on “security-related” grounds. 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. Iran’s Supreme Leader issues pardons on certain occasions including religious holidays as well as on the occasion of the Iranian New Year which is celebrated on 21 March. According to Gholam-Hossein Esmaili all of the prisoners pardoned by Khamenei will be released from prison unlike previous cases when only part of the sentence was commuted and the prisoner had to serve the rest of his jail term. Khamenei’s pardon will apply to a considerable number of those who have been allowed to go on furlough due to the fears of coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading in overcrowded prisons with limited medical facilities, he said. The pardoned prisoners who are on furlough will not have to return to prison, he said. In a recent report to United Nations’ Human Rights council Javid Rehman, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran said he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily to help stem the spread of coronavirus. Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi on 16 March said about 70,000 prisoners had been allowed to go on furlough due to the coronavirus epidemic. Speaking to reporters in Geneva Rehman also said a number of dual and foreign nationals in Iranian prisons are at real risk if they have not already been infected with the deadly virus. So far the Iranian Judiciary has allowed some “security prisoners” to go on furlough including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, a dual British-Iranian national but several more are still held in prison despite international cries for their release. Prominent lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh who is serving a 10-year term announced that she has gone on hunger strike in protest to keeping political prisoners in jails which puts their lives at huge risk of infection with COVID-19.