54 inmates at large after mass jailbreak in Iran

Updated March 30, 2020

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On March 19, 23 prisoners escaped from another jail in the western city of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province. — Creative Commons/File
On March 19, 23 prisoners escaped from another jail in the western city of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province. — Creative Commons/File

TEHRAN: Iranian security forces are searching for 54 escaped inmates following a prison break over which four guards were arrested, Iran’s state news agency reported on Sunday.

“Some prison guards were summoned and four of them were arrested and others released on bail,” Mojtaba Shirouzbozorgi, a judicial official in Kurdistan province, told IRNA.

According to the agency, 74 inmates escaped from Saqqez city’s prison on Friday, 20 of whom have so far either turned themselves in or been captured.

On March 19, 23 prisoners escaped from another jail in the western city of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province, hours before the start of Iran’s New Year celebrations, IRNA said.

They reportedly escaped during the night while guards were making preparations for a New Year amnesty.

The escapees had been serving a maximum of one-year sentences, the agency said, denying that dangerous criminals were at large.

There were also prison riots in Hamedan and Tabriz provinces, and Aligoudarz city in Lorestan as authorities prevented escapes.

Hamedan’s prosecutor told IRNA that the unrest there was “over the excuse of the coronavirus outbreak.” One inmate died and another was injured at the riot in Aligoudarz prison.

Around 10,000 prisoners are expected to be released in the New Year amnesty, according to Iran’s judiciary.

The move aims to “reduce the number of prisoners in light of the sensitive situation in the country”, a judicial spokesman said, making no explicit reference to the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran’s judiciary has also temporarily released 100,000 detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, the spokesman said on Sunday.To stem the spread of the virus in crowded jails, Iran’s judiciary on Sunday extended furloughs for 100,000 prisoners. On March 17, Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners.

“The second wave of (the) temporary release of prisoners had already started and their (100,000 prisoners) furloughs have been extended until April 19,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was reported as saying by state television.

Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January.

Iranian authorities say that US sanctions are hampering their efforts to curb the outbreak and have urged other countries and the United Nations to call for the measures to be lifted. Washington has rejected a lifting of sanctions.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020