President Lazarus Chakwera has pardoned 499 prisoners in a bid to reduce congestion in prisons amid the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
Earlier this month, the country’s prisons registered 107 Covid-19 cases with Chichiri Prison in Blantyre and Nkhata Bay Prison as the worst hit.
Writing on his Facebook page, Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda, without giving much details, said the pardon was in reaction to the souring Covid-19 cases.
However, spokesperson for the Malawi Prison Services Chimwemwe Shaba said his office was yet to receive communication from the Ministry.
Shaba was quick to point out that plans have been there to release prisoners in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not the first time we are releasing prisoners because of the pandemic. Recently the president pardoned more than 3000 prisoners through other projects such as the Chilungamo project,” said Shaba.
Reacting to the news, Executive Director for Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) Victor Mhango who confirmed the news of the pardon said while they appreciate the President’s effort, they feel the number is too low and will not make a difference.
“Our prisons are heavily congested and if we are not carefully they will turn into a breeding ground for the coronavirus. On average we have more than 14 000 prisoners in the country’s prisons. This is too much, there is need to release more prisoners in the wake of this pandemic,” said Mhango.
Mhango further said he feels prisoners are not being treated as humans when it comes to following World Health Organisation (WHO) standards on Covid-19.
In September last year, a Malawi Inspectorate of Prisons report urged government to decongest the country’s prisons on the basis that they were holding 14 778 inmates against an occupancy of 5000.