About 50 prisoners are expected to be released in early April, according to reports, as concerns grow over overcrowding amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
Nicosia central prison has been operating beyond capacity for some time.
It is understood that there are currently 820 prisoners at a facility intended for 540 inmates. An early, or partial, release of 50 prisoners may alleviate some pressure but would likely still leave the rest in a woefully precarious condition.
“This is not for serious criminals. It would be unfair if people who hadn’t paid fines and are in there for two to three months are exposed to such conditions and die,” Antonis Vafeas, who has a client in the prisons, told the Cyprus Mail on Friday.
The release of some 50 prisoners would not apply to some of the more egregious criminals such as sexual assault, murder and attempted murder, Politis reported.
Last week, the Cyprus Mail reported that a 65-year-old detainee asked to be released as he has pre-existing respiratory issues and the conditions in the prison placed him in particular danger.
His lawyer said their client suffers from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease of the lungs, necessitating his removal from the jail.
“After his request, he was placed into self-isolation for six days,” Vafeas said.
The 65-year-old has been remanded on an EU arrest warrant issued by France and an extradition process is ongoing.
“There is not the necessary equipment and they are not putting into place the measures which the government has required,” he said. “From what my client has told me the conditions are such that the prisoners are not protected and neither are the officials there.”
Nicosia central prisons director Anna Aristotelous was not available for comment at the time of publication.
The groundwork for the release of some prisoners, deemed non-threatening, has been set by other countries, including: US, Germany, Poland, Canada, and Iran.
In Iran, 85,000 prisoners were temporarily released to help combat the spread of the disease. Analysts are particularly concerned about the spread in prisons, as many people are stuck close together – often in poor conditions.
Gholamhossein Esmaili, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, said: “Some 50 per cent of those released are security-related prisoners… Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak.”
In Britain, the government is drawing up an emergency plan to avoid disruption in prisons, as wardens say they are facing unprecedented challenges.
Poland plans to extend a programme under which some prisoners are allowed to serve their sentences at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.