Zimbabwe grants amnesty to ease prison congestion

Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has granted amnesty to 4,000 prisoners as part of efforts to decongest the country’s crowded jails. 

Pardoned prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare were freed Friday after Mnangagwa released females, those with chronic ailments, juveniles and those with life sentences who have served at least 20 years.  

There was no reprieve for inmates sentenced for murder, treason, armed robbery, robbery or those facing death sentences who were imprisoned for life.   

Moses Chihobvu, head of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services agency, told reporters, “We had 24,000-plus prisoners inside. So, the 4,000 going out … prisons are still full.”

Chihobvu said the prisons and correctional services will benefit from the release by gaining space needed to accommodate inmates, but also in the savings gained from food and medical care.

The pardoned prisoners refused to be identified, but spoke to reporters as they left the jail.

One departing inmate, with 15 months left on a sentence for unlawful entry, was thrilled and grateful for the news of Mnangagwa’s pardons. The prisoner talked of looking forward to using skills learned in jail to look after family members.

Another pardoned prisoner, who had served two months after being arrested for stealing from an uncle, said despite being treated well in jail and learning a lot, it was a painful experience the inmate aims to never repeat.

Zimbabwe’s last pardon was in May 2023, but prisons continue filling up.

Obert Muzembe, a criminologist at Muzembe Law Chambers, blames the declining economy. 

“You look at the inflation rate in Zimbabwe. That puts pressure on the society, and many weak members of the society end up [resorting] to unlawful means to survive,” Muzembe said.

“There are [a] number of issues that can be done in order to deal with the situation. Number one, of course, we need to educate the society, educate the community about crime,” he said. “Number two, you need the church to come up. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that the church is the moral compass of the society. And then, obviously, the economic measures that need to be taken in order to improve the well-being of the people. But above all, we need society itself to come through in terms of education through the church and various stakeholders.” 

Those who were pardoned last year and were arrested again did not qualify for amnesty announced this week by Mnangagwa. 

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