‘Imprisonment should be last resort…in crisis’ – UN rights chief on prisoners’ fates amid Covid-19 outbreak
UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has called on governments around the world to reduce the number of prisoners amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, citing their particular vulnerability to the disease.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the dreaded disease, Covid-19, has already reached jails, immigration centers, care homes and psychiatric wards in some countries, putting their populations at risk.
Bachelet urged the authorities to reduce the number of people held in confined spaces and particularly to set sick and low-risk offenders free. She also drew special attention to the plight of political prisoners.
“Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views,” she said in a statement. “Imprisonment should be a measure of last resort, particularly during this crisis,” she added.
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Her address was published as a London court denied bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, stating that the pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives around the world and infected more than 8,000 in the UK alone is not a sufficient reason to let him out of prison.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced prison authorities in Italy – one of the worst affected nations – to tighten prison rules and particularly suspend family visits to prevent the virus from getting into jails. The measures, however, sparked riots in as many as 20 penitentiary facilities across Italy in early March, resulting in the deaths of twelve inmates.
A protest against sanitary conditions in the face of the coronavirus pandemic in one of the prisons in Colombia’s capital Bogota also ended up in an outbreak of violence, leading to the deaths of 23 people.
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