Hundreds of prisoners in Yemen freed amid coronavirus pandemic

470 inmates were freed from detention centres under government control

epa08311872 People wear protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, in Sanaa, Yemen, 21 March 2020. Yemen is taking precautionary measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 disease. Yemen has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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Yemen’s internationally recognised government on Wednesday  released hundreds of prisoners charged with lesser crimes amid fears that the coronavirus could spread through the country’s jails.

"More than 470 prisoners were freed from detention facilities in provinces under the legitimate government's control, such as Dhalea, Al Mahra, Hadramawt, Shabwa, Marib and Taez," a judiciary source told The National.

“These measures were taken according to the directives of the Attorney General."

On Tuesday, chief prosecutors of provinces across Yemen were ordered to visit prisons and immediately release the prisoners, especially those who had served half of their terms.

“Such procedures were urgently implemented to avert the risk of contracting the coronavirus in case the pandemic emerges in the coming days,” the judiciary source said.

On Monday, a media campaign was launched by Yemeni and international lawyers and human rights advocates, called Save Yemeni Prisoners.

The campaign demanded that the UN and the international community put pressure on the warring factions to free political prisoners as the Covid-19 spread globally.

“Prisons in Yemen are overcrowded and lack basic hygiene,” Yemen conflict analyst Nadwa Dawsari said.

"If an outbreak starts there, it will cause mass casualties and won’t stop at prisons gates.

All sides to the conflict have a responsibility to prevent that from happening. They need to take immediate measure to release prisoners."

Also on Monday, the UN international panel of human rights experts called for the immediate release of political prisoners in Yemen to reduce the risk of them contracting Covid-19.