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Zimbabwe frees over 4,000 prisoners from cramped jails

May 19, 2023

A total of 4,270 inmates would be let out of Zimbabwe's prisons over the weekend thanks to a pardon from President Emmerson Mnangagwa. It comes ahead of general elections later this year.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks during an event at the Robert International airport in Harare
Mnangagwa is running for a second term.Image: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/dpa/AP/picture alliance

President Emmerson Mnangagwa decided to pardon about a fifth of all prisoners in Zimbabwe just a few weeks before the elections.

The release of 4,270 inmates began on Friday and was expected to be completed by Monday, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said.

Ostensibly, the move addressed overcrowding in the country's 55 prisons, which previously held over 22,000 people despite a capacity of around 17,000.

"We would like to appeal to... society at large to embrace and accept the inmates who have been released," Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) said in a statement.

'Noble gesture by the president'

The amnesty applied to prisoners who had served three-quarters of their sentence and excluded violent criminals and those convicted of robbery, treason, and public order offenses.

Those released are eligible to vote in the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for July or August. However, a date still needs to be set.

The justice minister denied that the pardon had anything to do with the upcoming vote. Ziyambi described it as "merely a noble gesture by the president."

President Mnangagwa is seeking a second five-year term.

lo/msh (dpa, AFP)