/ 20 November 2007

Amnesty granted to almost 400 Zambian convicts

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has granted amnesty to almost 400 convicts in a bid to decongest his country’s disease-infested prisons, an official announced on Tuesday.

Mwanawasa amnestied 14 prisoners who were on life sentences and 379 others who were serving various jail terms, a prisons official, Daniel Chiwela, said.

”I wish to confirm that President Mwanawasa has ordered the release of 393 convicted prisoners,” Chiwela said in a statement.

Eight of the convicts are women.

Zambia has been facing a major crisis of overcrowding in prisons, which has led to outbreaks of contagious diseases that have killed many inmates.

Home Affairs Minister Ronnie Shikapwashya said his ministry had recommended to the president the release of terminally ill and aged prisoners as a way of implementing non-custodial sentencing.

”We believe that once these non-custodian dispositions are put into effect they would contribute significantly in scaling down the population of prisoners in custody,” the minister said. ”Hence, initiatives have been undertaken in recent past to bring about better living conditions in our penal institutions.”

Mwanawasa, a former human rights lawyer, has openly voiced his concern over the poor prison conditions and has commuted death penalties of prisoners to life sentences, saying he could not sign for their executions. — Sapa-AFP