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Zimbabwe Releases 1,500 Inmates to Relieve Prison System Overcrowding

Zimbabwean prison authorities on Friday freed more than 1,500 inmates pardoned by President Robert Mugabe under an initiative intended to relieve pressure on the overcrowded penal system.

Justice Ministry sources said most of those freed from prisons including the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare were women and juveniles, but also included men serving sentences of 20 years or more for nonviolent crimes. No one convicted of murder or rape was liberated, officials said.

The mass pardon and release was motivated by the deterioration of prison conditions to the point where the system could no longer basic food, water, health and clothing needs of prisoners.

The human rights group Amnesty International said at least 1,000 thousand prisoners died in the first half of this year in Zimbabwe's overcrowded prisons. Cells had become breeding grounds for communicable diseases including cholera and tuberculosis, the organization said.

Chief Executive Edson Chihota of the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender welcomed the move to improve prison conditions, but said the general lack of resources in the country could hamper the reintegration into society of those set free this week.

More reports from VOA's Studio7 for Zimbabwe...