16 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Frees Prisoners As Cash Crunch Bites

Photo: Ruvimbo Chakanyuka
Some terminally ill prisoners are also being set free.

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Sunday ordered the release of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in the country's prisons at a time the government's finances are desperately stretched.

The pardon was confirmed by Deputy Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services in charge of administration, Huggins Machingauta, in Harare on Sunday.

In December last year, the same official told a Parliamentary committee that the prison services was failing to feed inmates adding 100 prisoners had died from hunger and lack of drugs, double the number in 2012.

The claim was later denied by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who said Machingauta's remarks had been misrepresented.

Meanwhile, confirming the pardon on Sunday, Machingauta told reporters: "The process which is being carefully done and will start Monday,".

"We have already informed all he prisons including at the furthest prison in Binga to start working on the task. We expect to release 2000 inmates countrywide on Monday with a huge number following till Friday."

The number of inmates in the country's prisons as at February 14 stood at 18,980 against a holding capacity of 17,000, according to Machingauta.

The prisons chief said inmates who are over 70 years old and still incarcerated would be released regardless of their offences.

However, the amnesty excludes those with extended sentences, sentences imposed by martial law, those serving sentences after they escaped from lawful custody, those jailed for murder, treason, car-jacking, armed robbery, and stock theft.

Machingauta said Mugabe's clemency would also specifically benefit female inmates.

"It (pardon) is going to reduce the remainder of the remission period of convicted inmates, so we are going to see a lot of them going home starting tomorrow," he said.

"As I have said that those serving life sentences and murder are going to be spared, this means that three female inmates, two of them under the death sentence and one who is on life sentence, are going to remain behind the bars."

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