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Iran freeing 10,000 more prisoners to help fight coronavirus

Tehran, Iran — Iran's top leader will pardon 10,000 more prisoners in an apparent effort to combat the coronavirus, state TV reported Thursday.

As part of steps to curb the spread of the new virus that has killed more than 1,100 people in Iran, the country has already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave.

The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most in Iran or originating from Iran.

To encourage people to stay at home in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour wrote on social media that the virus infects 50 Iranians on average every single hour and that "one dies every 10 minutes ."

"Make smart decisions about travel, visits and meetings," he wrote on Twitter, as highways remained crowded with people traveling to see family ahead of the Iranian New Year on Friday.

State TV quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying that 10,000 prisoners - among them an unknown number of inmates whose cases are political and related to activism or speech - would be granted amnesty under a decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the occasion of the new year, called Nowruz.

Occasionally Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, pardons prisoners. Last year, he pardoned more than 50,000 on the 40th anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Western nations have urged Iran to release dual nationals and others, alleging they're used as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Among those temporarily freed was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticized charges. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in 2016 on charges of trying to topple the government while traveling with her toddler daughter. 

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