Morocco to release thousands of prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak

Morocco to release thousands of prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak
Morocco has ordered the release of thousands of prisoners as the death toll from the COVID-19 illness increased to 66 people.
3 min read
05 April, 2020
Morocco has imposed measures to tackle the novel virus [Getty]
Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Sunday pardoned more than 5,600 prisoners and ordered their release in stages to avoid contagion in the country's overcrowded jails.

The justice ministry said the 5,654 detainees that would be freed were selected based in their age, health, good conduct and length of detention.

They would be released in stages due to "exceptional circumstances linked to the emergency health situation and necessary precautions" against the virus, it said in a statement.

The decision came as the Covid-19 illness has officially killed 66 people and infected 960 in the North African country.

The king also ordered authorities to take "all the necessary measures to reinforce the protection of detainees in prisons" which are widely known to be overcrowded.

Morocco, home to 35 million people, has an estimated 232 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants.

With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, rights groups have urged authorities to release all political prisoners, including those held in preventive detention or nearing the end of the terms.

But it was not immediately clear if detainees linked to the "Hirak" protest movement that rocked northern Morocco in 2016 and 2017 would be among those pardoned by the king.

Morocco's prison authorities have meanwhile taken measures to protect staff and reduced visits.

The UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet last month said countries should consider releasing older detainees and low-risk offenders.

Several other countries, including Iran, Afghanistan and Indonesia, have moved to release thousands of prisoners to lower the risk of a major outbreak of the virus in prisons.

Last week, Morocco sounded alarm over shortages of blood supplies as the country's coronavirus outbreak worsens, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language site.

On March 23, only 200 Moroccans gave blood at a time when at least four times that number are needed on a daily basis.

Dr. Mohamed Benajiba, director of the National Center for Blood Transfusion (CNTS), urged Moroccans to donate blood, stressing patients' lives depend on it.

Benajiba told The New Arab that Moroccans are reluctant to donate blood fearing they will contract the virus at the donation site.

Mobile blood donation sites have also ceased their operations after Moroccan authorities announced a state of emergency, Benajiba said.

"The National Center for Blood Transfusion has taken measures to ensure the complete safety of donors," Benajiba told The New Arab.

Benajiba said Moroccan authorities will grant permission to citizens who leave their homes to donate blood.

Frequent blood donor Saeed Al-Semlali acknowledged the concerns over COVID-19's spread, but trusted that all precautions were taken by officials to ensure blood donors' safety.

"Moroccan citizens should donate blood, especially in the difficult circumstances the country is going through due to the spread of the coronavirus," he told The New Arab.

Morocco hopes to reach donations from 1 percent of the country's population, a minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The Covid-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 64,788 people worldwide, while over 1,203,959 infections have been confirmed.

The majority of those that infected with corona experience only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough.

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 247,302 have already recovered from the infection.

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