Afghanistan must take immediate steps to implement President Ashraf Ghani's decree to release prisoners to control the spread of COVID-19, Amnesty International said in a statement on Friday, calling on the authorities to prioritize women prisoners.
Ghani’s decree was issued to facilitate the release of prisoners amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, and is separate from his decrees regarding Taliban prisoners, as called for in the US-Taliban peace deal.
The rights body says that there are fears that prisoners in overcrowded detention facilities, often where up to five people are squeezed into a single cell in unsanitary conditions and without access to adequate health facilities, are at high risk of infection.
“Ten days have passed since Afghanistan’s President ordered the release of prisoners and nothing has happened,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International. “At particular risk are women prisoners, many of whom have children with them.”
He said the government must take immediate measures for the release of these women and for them to be safely relocated to limit the risk to them.
According to the statement, Afghan civil society groups in an open letter to President Ghani this week raised concerns about the conditions of women prisoners.
The number of positive cases of the coronavirus surpassed 500 on Friday as the Ministry of Public Health reported 37 new cases in the past 24 hours.
The statement also pointed out the dilemma caused by the lockdown in parts of Afghanistan, which forces people to make the “cruel choice” between infection and starvation.
It added that most women prisoners are in Kabul and Herat – the two provinces with highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country.