Zimbabwe releases prisoners through amnesty, reducing overcrowding

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe has begun releasing more than 4,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty that authorities say will help reduce overcrowding in some overcrowded prisons.

About 800 prisoners were released from the capital’s Harare Central Prison and Chikurubi Maximum Prison on Friday. Prisons elsewhere in the country began releasing prisoners eligible for amnesty on Thursday, said Meya Khanyezi, a spokeswoman for Zimbabwe’s prisons and corrections service.

He said the amnesty would “go a long way towards reducing the prison population”. Zimbabwe’s prisons have a capacity of 17,000 but have more than 20,000 inmates.

Former prisoners have complained in the past about overcrowding and other harsh conditions, such as lack of food and inadequate medical care. Amnesty International previously described the conditions as “deplorable”. The southern African country of 15 million people regularly uses presidential amnesties to decongest prisons.

The latest amnesty recipient, John Mafararikwa, who served 17 months in prison for theft, expressed his relief.

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“It’s overcrowded and the food is bad. Most of the time we eat food made without cooking oil,” said the 71-year-old as he boarded a prison bus that took him and other amnesties from Harare Central Prison.

Singing, dancing and prayer characterized the event. Some elderly people walked with crutches. A small group wore graduation gowns after receiving their degrees in Bible Studies.

At Chikurubi Maximum Prison, freed female prisoners hugged prison officers while men rushed to the back of an open truck to be escorted out of the prison. Others thanked President Emmerson Mnangagwa for the mercy.

All women incarcerated for non-violent crimes who have served one-third of their sentences should be released. The terminally ill are released regardless of the crime committed, while blind prisoners and “disabled people who cannot be cared for in prison” have their remaining sentences waived in full.

Beneficiaries of the amnesty include prisoners over the age of 60 and juveniles, while in the last 10 years the death sentence has been changed to life imprisonment.

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Zimbabwe still has the death penalty, but no one has been hanged since 2005. President Mnangagwa has previously stated his opposition to the death penalty.

Those who are serving a life sentence but have been in prison for the past 20 years are also released.

They also release prisoners who have committed violent crimes such as murder, carjacking, human trafficking and sex crimes but have served three-quarters of their sentences. Persons imprisoned for treason, robbery, public violence and sabotage of electricity infrastructure cannot be released.

Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/zimbabwe-releases-prisoners-amnesty-reducing-overcrowding-99460470