Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Friday sent a bill to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, which will pardon prisoners serving short sentences, in order to alleviate the chronic overcrowding in Mozambican jails.
Overcrowding has posed a threat to the health and lives of prison inmates for decades, and the issue has now become urgent with the threat posed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
A release from Nyusi's office pointed out that "with a prison population of over 21,000, we note that the penitentiaries are a place of high risk for the spread of infectious diseases, including Covid-19".
Recent data from the Attorney-General's Office (PGR) indicate that the real capacity of the country's prisons is just 8,000 inmates. Nyusi said that, taking into account the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the government is now taking urgent measures to avoid the spread of Covid-19 in the prisons.
So Nyusi sent a bill to the Assembly that would amnesty all crimes punishable with penalties of up to a year's imprisonment, and pardon people already serving sentences of up to a year.
Nyusi said he is aware that this is not the best approach to the problem, and so urged the courts, wherever possible, to stop sending offenders to prison. They should process cases efficiently and rapidly and use "alternatives to imprisonment", which would help relieve the overcrowded prisons.
The president urged the prison managements to adopt strictly the preventive measures decreed by the government, and recommended by the health authorities.
Nyusi urged civil society and the community authorities to welcome the beneficiaries of the amnesty and pardon and help them become re-integrated into society.
The bill will be discussed on Sunday by the Assembly's Commission on Constitutional and Legal Matters.
The chairperson of the Commission, Antonio Boene, said that all three parliamentary groups (from the ruling Frelimo Party, and the opposition parties, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM) are in agreement that the bill "is opportune and pertinent". So he expected there would be no problem in the Assembly passing the bill.
Once the Commission has given its opinion on the bill, it will be sent to the plenary for approval some time in the next few days. The bill will become law once it is promulgated by Nyusi and published in the official gazette, the "Boletim da Republica".