Burundi has freed 1,300 prisoners in the first stage of a presidential pardon aimed at emptying overcrowded jails in the East African nation, the country’s Justice Minister Jeanine Nibizi said.
Nearly 1,000 prisoners were released from jail in Bujumbura on Monday at a ceremony attended by President Evariste Ndayishimiye, government ministers and foreign ambassadors.
An additional 331 inmates were discharged in the capital Gitega.
“This is the first time in our country that nearly 5,000 detainees have benefited from a presidential pardon,” said Justice Minister Jeanine Nibizi.
According to a CGTN report, the inmates were the first among some 3,000 detainees the Burundi government has promised to imminently release, with another 2,000 receiving sentence cuts that will allow them to walk free in coming weeks.
Plans to free over 5, 000 inmates in Burundi were announced in March this year, a figure amounting to 40 percent of the country’s estimated 13,200 prisoners, civil society groups said.
In his presidential decree at the time, Ndayishimiye said he was “convinced that an exceptional measure of clemency is needed to decongest prisons and improve conditions of detention.”
Those convicted of corruption, and prisoners serving sentences of up to five years, were slated for release.
Certain exceptions were made, including cases involving participation in an armed group or threatening national security.