Blantyre, Malawi - Malawian President Joyce Banda on Thursday freed 281 prisoners from the country's overcrowded jails as part of Easter celebrations.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement the freed prisoners had “served at least half of their prison sentences with good behaviour and were not convicted of serious offences.”

Malawi's 34 prisons are battling severe overcrowding, blamed on courts that often give prison sentences for minor offences.

However, prisoners are often granted pardons to mark holidays including Independence Day on July 6.

Retired judge Duncan Tambala once described the impoverished country's prisons as “hell on earth” due to poor conditions.

Banda, who became Malawi's president after her predecessor's death in April 2012, is seeking election in May 20 general elections.

Sapa-AFP