LIST: Countries releasing prisoners over coronavirus fears

Jodesz Gavilan

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LIST: Countries releasing prisoners over coronavirus fears
(2nd UPDATE) This is in line with the recommendation of United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to release low-risk offenders and the sick as the world combats the coronavirus pandemic

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet earlier warned that neglecting prisoners in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic is “potentially catastrophic.”

She urged the release of low-risk offenders and the sick, especially those vulnerable to infection, to prevent the spread of the virus in places already suffering from congestion and health issues, among others. 

“People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent,” Bachelet said. “Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.” (READ: ‘Catastrophic’ situation in jails if low-risk prisoners not released)

But even before this call, several countries already initiated the release of many of its prison population. What are these countries? 

This page will be updated as more contries announce their plans in the coming days.


Afghanistan on March 26, said that it is working towards releasing at least 10,000 prisoners as part of its efforts to battle the coronavirus.  

Prisoners who will be included are those aged 55 and above, women, children, and the sick, according to a report by Reuters. Members of Islamist militant groups are not included. 

The release was formalized through a decree issued by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

As of Tuesday, April 7, Afghanistan has reported 337 cases with 7 deaths due to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) dashboard.


India’s Supreme Court on March 24 directed states and territories to set up panels that will discuss the possiblity of releasing inmates as a bid to counter the coronavirus outbreak.

It also recommended that convicts jailed for more than 7 years be considered, including those awaiting trial for offenses that may land them a sentence of maximum 7 years.

Following this directive, several states in India already began the process of release. These include 11 prisoners from Maharashtra and 3,000 from New Delhi’s Tihar Prisons.

India, as of April Tuesday, 7, has 4,067 cases of coronavirus, with 109 deaths. 


Indonesia already released 18,000 prisoners in the past few days, as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Indonesian government said it is planning to release a total of 30,000 people, mostly juvenile offenders and those who alreardy served at least two-thirds of their sentences. The country has at least 270,000 inmates in its 522 facilities.

Those released are advised to stay home and observe self-quarantine.

As of Tuesday, April 7, Indonesia has 2,491 cases with 209 deaths.

REUNION. A man hugs a family member after he was released from prison in Lhoknga near Banda Aceh in Indonesia. Photo by Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP


Iran so far already “temporarily released” more than 85,000 prisoners, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

Most of those released are low-risk and non-violent offenders serving short sentences. Releasing prisoners is one of the measures implemented by Iran, one of the countries hit hard by the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

The country has recorded 60,500 cases with 3,739 deaths, according to WHO. 


King Mohammed VI of Morocco pardoned at least 5,000 prisoners on Sunday, April 5. 

He ordered their release in stages due to “exceptional circumstances linked to the emergency health situation and necessary precautions” because of the virus. 

According to the country’s justice department, prisoners who will be pardoned were selected based on their health, age, conduct, and length of detention. 

Morocco has 1,113 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 71 deaths, as of Tuesday, April 7.


A court on Wednesday, April 8, dropped the cases against scores of Rohingya Muslims detained after fleeing Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, leading to their release as the country combats the spread of the coronavirus.

Myanmar had 22 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, April 8, with 3 deaths, according to WHO.

United Kindom

At least 4,000 prisoners detained in England and Wales are set to be temporarily released soon.

The UK’s Ministry of Justice on April 4 announced that low-risk offenders will be released on the condition that they will be remotely monitored using electronic tags.

“They can be immediately recalled to prison for breaching these conditions or committing further offences,” the ministry said in a statement. 

 Those not included are high-risk inmates”convicted of violent or sexual offences, anyone of national security concern or a danger to children,” and those who have not served half of their sentence. 

At least 88 prisoners and 15 staff have tested positive for the virus in the UK.

The UK, as of Tuesday, April 7, has 47,810 cases and 4,934 deaths–


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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.