Zimbabwe has started releasing around 3,000 prisoners as part of a presidential amnesty aimed at easing pressure in the country’s overcrowded prisons and that the danger of COVID-19.
On Saturday, approximately 400 inmates were released from Chikurubi prison and other jails in Harare, the capital, with more arriving from other prisons across the country.
Before President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared amnesty, Zimbabwe’s prisons had a capacity of 17,000 inmates but housed around 22,000 people.
Those who were set free had been found guilty of non-violent offenses. Those convicted of murder, treason, human trafficking, and sexual offenses will not be eligible for the program.
Both females convicted of non-violent crimes who have served a third of their sentences, as well as all disabled people convicted of non-violent crimes, will be released. Mnangagwa has commuted the death sentences of several death row inmates to life sentences. The death penalty is still in place in Zimbabwe, but no one has been hanged in years.
According to Alvord Gapare, the Harare prison commander, the amnesty “will go a long way” in that expenditure and the possibility of the virus spreading in prisons. He said 173 reported infections and one death had been registered in the capital’s prisons.
According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zimbabwe has reported 37,534 cases of COVID-19, with 1,551 deaths as of April 17.
According to Gapare, authorities have halted visits to prisons as arrangements are being made to vaccinate prisoners as part of efforts to combat the virus’s spread.
According to Patience Gabhure, who was among those released on Saturday, the suspension of visits was “tough” for inmates.
“Because there is never enough food in jail, we had to go hungry because our families couldn’t bring us food during the lockdown. “It was the most difficult time of my life in prison,” said Ghabure, who was serving a six-month sentence for robbery.
Political activists imprisoned as part of a government crackdown on dissent have described deplorable conditions, claiming that prisoners were at risk of malnutrition and disease outbreaks.
Zimbabwe has cancelled its Independence Day celebrations scheduled for April 18 in reaction to the pandemic.