HARARE, imb imbabwe (AP) – Over imbabwe has begun releasing some 3,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty aimed at easing the burden of reducing the threat of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons.
About 400 inmates were released from other prisons in the capital, Harare, on Saturday, with more people coming from other prisons across the country.
Zimbabwe prisons hold 17,000 inmates, but held about 22,000 before President Amerson Mnangagwa announced an amnesty.
The released were convicted of non-violent crimes. Those convicted of crimes such as murder, adultery, human trafficking, and sex crimes will not benefit.
All abused women who have served one-third of their sentence should be released, as should all disabled persons convicted of non-violent crimes. Mnangagwan also changed the death penalty to life imprisonment for many prisoners sentenced to death. There is still the death penalty in Zimbabwe, but no one has been hanged for years.
The amnesty will go a long way in reducing prison spending and the threat of the virus spreading, says Alvard Gapare, commander of Harare Prison. He said 173 confirmed infections and one death had been reported in the capital’s prisons.
37,534 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Dimbabwe, including 1,551 deaths on April 17, according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Authorities have suspended prison visits while the virus is being vaccinated as part of anti-virus measures, Gapare said.
The cessation of visits was “tough” for the detainees, said Paytens Gabhure, who was among those released on Saturday.
“There was never enough food in the prison, so the blockade meant we had to go hungry because our families could not bring us food. “It was the hardest moment of my prison life,” said Hab Abure, who was jailed for six months for the attack.
Political activists sent to prison as part of government crackdowns on dissent have spoken of harsh conditions that they say threaten prisoners with both starvation and disease.
In response to another epidemic, Zimbabwe canceled Independence Day celebrations scheduled for April 18 to combat the spread of COVID-19.
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