March 26, 2020 / 5:31 PM / 6 days ago

Afghanistan to release 10,000 prisoners to slow spread of coronavirus

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan will release at least 10,000 prisoners over the age of 55 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials said on Thursday.

“The president has issued a decree that several thousand prisoners will be released soon due to coronavirus,” an official in President Ashraf Ghani’s office said.

Those released will not include members of Islamist militant groups the Taliban or Islamic State, and the process will be completed within 10 days, said two government officials.

“Prisoners with serious health problems, women, children, the elderly above 55 years will benefit from the decree,” said Attorney General Mohammad Farid Hamidi.

Afghanistan has reported 91 cases of coronavirus and three deaths. The country’s western Herat province has recorded at least 54 of the 75 total cases reported in the last week.

International aid groups in recent weeks have raised concerns about the possibility of the coronavirus spreading in prisons across Afghanistan.

Ahmad Rashid Totakhil, the head of the general directorate of prisons, said the decision to release 10,000 prisoners was taken to tackle the spread of the highly contagious virus.

It was not clear whether prisoners will be tested or given medical aid before being released from prisons across the country.

Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Hugh Lawson

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