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In Bid To Stop Coronavirus Spread, Afghanistan To Release Thousands of Inmates

Afghans returning from Iran wait to be screened for the coronavirus on the Islam Qala border crossing in the western province of Herat on March 22.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Farid Hamidi, Afghanistan’s attorney general, says the authorities could release up to 10,000 inmates from prisons in the capital, Kabul, and across the country’s 34 provinces after Ghani issued a decree ordering the move on March 26.

"Today, we are going to witness the release of a number of prisoners to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” he told journalists in Kabul. “This step is being taken in accordance with the constitution and laws of the country.”

While Afghanistan has so far reported only 82 coronavirus cases, these figures do not reflect the true picture of the spread of the pandemic because of low testing. Afghan officials have attributed three deaths to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus infection. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Afghans have returned to all parts of Afghanistan from neighboring Iran, where the pandemic has killed more than 2,000 people.

Hamidi says the government has formed a specialized committee to look into the issue and prepared the lists of those to be released within a week. Those expected to be released include women, children, elderly, sick, and convicts expected to serve less than five years of imprisonment or those imprisoned for minor crimes.

The move is separate from the release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

Earlier this month, Ghani released a separate decree to allow and outline the phased release of Taliban inmates. Following several rounds of discussions over the Internet, Afghan officials are set to meet with Taliban representatives to begin the process by releasing 100 militants on March 31.

On March 26, Afghan authorities extended the lockdown to more cities and provinces.

Authorities will now lock down the southern province of Kandahar, Kabul, and the rural province of Logar to its southeast. A day earlier, Afghan authorities locked down the western province of Herat and the provincial capitals of neighboring Farah and Nimroz provinces.

With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan and the BBC Pashto Service.

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