HARARE (AFP) - Zimbabwe has pardoned 2,000 prisoners to make space in its overcrowded jails with authorities appealing to the released convicts not to return to a life of crime, state media reported Thursday (May 26).
All male prisoners under the age of 18 and all female inmates, except two who are serving life sentences, were released, The Herald newspaper reported.
"Inmates should not take this pardon for granted, let them go out there and... respect the laws of the country," Priscilla Mthembo, an official from the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, told the paper.
The pardon was also extended to terminally ill prisoners and those sentenced to less than three years who had served at least a quarter of their time.
The amnesty does not apply to prisoners jailed for murder, treason, rape, armed robbery, car-jacking or sexual offences.
"Our 46 prisons nationwide are overpopulated," Mthembo said.
"This presidential pardon will go a long way in decongesting our prisons and facilitating good living conditions for those that remain."
She called on Zimbabweans to give the prisoners "a second chance to life through supporting them in different endeavours to earn a better living".
Zimbabwe, which has been been ruled by authoritarian President Robert Mugabe since 1980, has about a prison population of about 20,000.
Last year, three prisoners were shot dead during a riot over scarce food at the Chikurubi maximum security prison on the outskirts of the capital Harare.
More than 100 prisoners died of malnutrition and illness in 2013, according to a parliamentary report.
The underfunded prisons rely on donations from charities including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which provides water, food and blankets.