Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has pardoned 2000 prisoners, mostly women and juveniles, a move that should ease congestion in the country's jails, a government notice showed Monday.
The numbers of pardoned prisoners amounts to more than 10 percent of the prison population, which stood at 18 460 last year against a holding capacity of 17 000.
Under the sweeping amnesty all females will go home, except those serving life terms, according to the clemency notice.
Mugabe also granted amnesty to prisoners aged 18 and under “irrespective of the offences they committed”.
The pardon also extends to all terminally ill inmates, and those over 70 years-old.
Prisoners convicted of murder, treason, rape, carjacking, armed robbery, stock theft and those serving a sentence imposed by a court martial are excluded from the amnesty.
The country's constitution allows a president to extend amnesty to prisoners whenever he wishes.
More than 100 prisoners died last year in Zimbabwe's cash-strapped prisons, which have been hit by food shortages, according to a rights group citing prison statistics.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said prison officials had told a parliamentary committee that the prisoners died “owing to nutrition-related illnesses induced by food shortages and natural causes”.
In 2009, the International Committee of the Red Cross had to step in with food, blankets and soap handouts to avert massive hunger and disease outbreaks.