Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa pardons 3,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding

FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa greets supporters of his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) party at a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s new president Emmerson Mnangagwa has pardoned up to 3,000 prisoners, including most female inmates, in his first act of clemency, a government notice showed on Wednesday.

The last time that prisoners were released en masse was in May 2016 by former president Robert Mugabe when prisons were struggling to feed inmates due to lack of funding from the government.

The notice did not give a reason for the amnesty, which is permitted by the constitution. But the move by Mnangagwa, nicknamed “Crocodile” for his reputation as an insular and ruthless politician before his rise to power, comes just months before presidential elections.

The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) said the pardon would decongest Zimbabwe’s prisons which have around 20,000 inmates but a holding capacity of only 17,000.

The pardon will benefit all female prisoners except those sentenced to death or facing life sentences, all juveniles and all people jailed for less than 36 months.

It will not be extended to those released during previous amnesties but jailed again, or to those convicted of murder, treason, rape and armed robbery.

“I hope after all the processes we will go through, 3,000 people will benefit,” Alford Mashango, ZPCS’s assistant commissioner told reporters.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky