Apr 17, 2021 - Health

Zimbabwe releases hundreds of prisoners to reduce COVID risk

Prisoners wave at their former inmates after walking free from Chikurubi Female Prison in Harare. Photo: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images
Prisoners wave at their former inmates after walking free from Chikurubi Female Prison in Harare. Photo: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

Zimbabwe on Saturday released more than 300 prisoners to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the country's overcrowded prisons, per the New York Times.

Driving the news: The latest round of prisoner releases comes as the country experiences another wave of the pandemic, driven in part by the more contagious B.1.351 variant first discovered in South Africa.

  • Zimbabwe has recorded more than 37,500 COVID-19 cases and 1,552 deaths since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Details: The prisoners are being released under a presidential amnesty program put in place by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018, per AP.

  • Those released are mostly nonviolent offenders.
  • Many were held in country's Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, which is known for overcrowding and poor conditions, according to the Times.

The big picture: The country's prisons have the capacity to hold about 17,000 prisoners, but they housed 22,000 before Mnangagwa declared the amnesty.

  • Zimbabwe released thousands of prisoners between March and June 2020, per the Times.
  • Of note: Saturday's move also comes "amid growing allegations that a government crackdown has sent dozens of activists, journalists and opposition leaders to prisons," the Times noted.
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