Yemen frees nearly 800 prisoners as country braces for spread of coronavirus

Nearly 800 prisoners have been released around the country in the past ten days as part of precautionary measures taken to cope with the potential spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Yemen, according to officials around the country. 

The Yemeni government says it has released 391 prisoners since March 28 and plans to release more. 

Houthi authorities say they released 406 prisoners on Thursday in Hodeidah. Low-risk prisoners who have served half their sentences released, and higher-risk prisoners who have served three quarters of their sentence were released, authorities told the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency.

The first batch of prisoners were released by the Yemeni government in Shabwa governorate on March 28. Local authorities released 43 prisoners after a review of their individual cases by a committee formed by Shabwa governor Mohammed Saleh Bin Adyo in coordination with the governorate’s chief prosecutor to mitigate the risk of the pandemic, also referred to as COVID-19.  

The governorate released those who had served three quarters of their sentences, as well as non-violent prisoners who could pay a bond.

The public prosecutor’s office in Al-Mahra followed Shabwa’s lead the next day. On March 29, the prosecutor’s office released 49 prisoners who had served two thirds of their sentences. “[We took] this step [to] ease the overcrowding of [prisons] as part of precautionary measures taken to deal with the coronavirus,” a local official in Al-Mahra told Almasdar Online. 

The authorities in Al-Mahra say they have paid 17 million Yemeni riyals, nearly $31 thousand in bonds to secure the release of prisoners in those cases requiring a financial surety that the defendants will reappear if summoned. 

Members of the Yemeni judiciary who have in recent weeks called on officials around the country to release all low-risk prisoners in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Yemen’s penal system. This week, Yemeni activists started a three-day media campaign under the hashtag #SaveYemeniPrisoners to pressure all sides in Yemen’s conflict to release prisoners. 

The UN also released a statement his week, calling on all parties to Yemen’s conflict to “immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities, official and secret alike, in order to prevent and mitigate the risks of COVID-19 contagion in the whole of Yemen, in line with their obligations under international law.”

Sixty-two low-risk prisoners were released in Marib governorate on March 30. That same day, Taiz governorate released 37 low-risk central prison inmates. Taiz’s chief prosecutor vowed to release more prisoners in the coming days. Authorities in Hadhramout released 200 prisoners on Wednesday. 

At the end of March, Houthi authorities announced the release of Baha'i prisoners, without disclosing how many. Rights activists say the released inmates numbered in the dozens. 

As of April 5, there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in Yemen. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.1 million people according to Johns Hopkins University, and killed more than 59,000 worldwide.




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