The United States is asking other nations to release what one ambassador called religious “prisoners of conscience” to prevent their infection with the coronavirus.
“We’re making the point that you should not want any of these prisoners of conscience to die of the Covid-19 virus while in prison and to have the responsibility on your hands,” said Sam Brownback, US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, during a recent conference call with reporters.
Prisons and jails in the United States and throughout the world have taken steps to release inmates either before their trials or before their sentences have been completed, as they take into account such factors as prison overcrowding and cramped cells preventing any kind of meaningful social distancing that has been advocated to stem the spread of the virus.
Brownback’s message was aimed specifically at religious prisoners, whatever the reason that authorities arrested or tried them for in the first place.
“We’re saying it’s good for you as a country. These people shouldn’t be locked up because of their faith,” Brownback said. “Fortunately, we have seen a number of countries that have begun to release their prisoners.”
He cited several nations – Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Syria and Tunisia – in general for their efforts in releasing religious prisoners, who are frequently members of religious minorities in their respective countries.
“The conditions of their release vary widely,” Brownback said, noting that some have won their freedom outright while others have been furloughed to house arrest. “We’re asking for complete release, but we’ll take what we can get,” he added in response to a question.
Picture: Women religious, who were freed after being held by rebels for more than three months, attend a 2014 prayer service at Holy Cross Church in Damascus, Syria, after their release. The United States asked other nations to release what one ambassador called religious “prisoners of conscience” to prevent their infection with the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Khaled al-Hariri, Reuters).