- Zimbabwe has begun releasing more than 4,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty hoping to ease overcrowding in prisons.
- Former detainees have previously complained of harsh conditions such as overcrowding, lack of food and poor health care.
- Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services spokeswoman Meya Khanyezi said the amnesty “would go a long way in reducing the prison population”.
Zimbabwe has begun releasing more than 4,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty that authorities say will help ease congestion in some overcrowded prisons.
About 800 prisoners were released on Friday from the Central Jail and Chikurubi Maximum Jail in the capital, Harare. On Thursday, prisons in other parts of the country began releasing prisoners who qualified for the amnesty, said Meya Khanyezi, a spokeswoman for Zimbabwe’s Prisons and Correctional Services.
He said the amnesty “will go a long way in reducing the prison population”. Zimbabwe’s prisons have a capacity of 17,000 but hold more than 20,000 inmates.
Former detainees have in the past complained of overcrowding and other harsh conditions such as a lack of food and adequate health care. Amnesty International has previously described the conditions as “deplorable”. The South African nation of 15 million people regularly uses the presidential amnesty to decongest prisons.
A recipient of the latest amnesty, John Mafararikwa, who was serving a 17-month sentence for theft, expressed relief.
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“It’s overcrowded and the food is bad. Most of the time we eat food prepared without cooking oil,” the 71-year-old said, as he boarded a prison bus that was taking him and other amnesty recipients away from Harare’s central prison.
Songs, dances and prayers punctuated the event. Some older people walked with the aid of crutches. A small group wore graduation gowns after receiving diplomas in Bible studies.
In Chikurubi Maximum Prison, the released female inmates embraced the prison officers, while the men rushed to the back of an open truck waiting to transport them from prison. Others thanked President Emmerson Mnangagwa for showing mercy.
All women detained for non-violent crimes and who have served one third of their sentences must be released. The terminally ill will be released regardless of the crime committed, while blind prisoners and those “with physical problems who cannot be cared for in a prison” have been fully pardoned their remaining sentences.
Inmates aged 60 and over and minors are among the beneficiaries of the amnesty, while those on death row for 10 years have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
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Zimbabwe still has the death penalty, but hasn’t hanged anyone since 2005. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has previously said he opposes the death penalty.
Those serving life sentences but who have been in prison for the past 20 years will also be released.
Prisoners who have committed violent crimes such as murder, car theft, human trafficking and sexual offenses but have served three-quarters of their sentences are also released. Those who had been locked up for offenses such as treason, robbery, public violence and sabotage of electrical infrastructure could not be released.