Malawi's president pardons prisoners on Easter

President Bakili Muluzi on Friday commuted the death sentences of 79 prisoners and freed 320 others in a gesture to coincide with Easter.

“The president has commuted death sentences of 79 prisoners to life imprisonment and set free 320 out of 9 500 prisoners with minor offences to mark Easter festivities,” said Smart Maliro, prisons spokesperson.

Maliro said the prisoners, drawn from 24 jails across the southern African country, were “released immediately”.

He said those pardoned did not include inmates convicted of serious offences like rape, murder, manslaughter and armed robbery.

“It was those with good behaviour and terminal illness,” said Maliro.

Some 20 prisoners remain on death row, including Malawian opposition lawmaker Nasser Kara, convicted earlier this year on a charge of murder.

Muluzi, who retires in May after his two terms as the country’s first multi-party president since 1994, has been credited with improving Malawi’s human rights record after three decades of dictatorial rule under the conservative Kamuzu Banda.

Since Muluzi’s ascent to power, no person had been put to death under the country’s penal system.

He has in the past also commuted death sentences and has told rights watchdog Amnesty International in 1998: “I will never sign the death sentence for a fellow human being.”

Malawi’s prisons are congested and a high court judge once described their conditions as “hell on earth.” - Sapa