President grants non-violent prisoners amnesty

AN amnesty has been granted to a range of prisoners serving time for non-violent offences with President Mnangagwa exercising executive clemency to release inmates who had served at least one third of their jail term by Independence Day last month as a measure of decongesting prisons now holding more than 22 000 prisoners.

The country’s prisons have a carrying capacity of 17 000 and Presidential clemency has been used several times in the past to reduce the prison population.

The Clemency Order No 1 of 2023 was gazetted yesterday under General Notice 672B of 2023 issued by the Permanent Secretary for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Virginia Mabiza.

The order excludes a range of prisoners, mainly violent criminals and men serving more than four years, while qualifying more women, juveniles, those with terminal illnesses and prisoners over 60.

Some men serving longer sentences can have their sentences reduced and some, but not all, excluding violent prisoners, can be released if they have served at least three quarters of their effective sentence.

All prisoners under sentence of death and on death row for 10 years have had their sentence reduced to life imprisonment and those serving life imprisonment who have served at least 20 years can be released.

Blind and disabled prisoners also go free.

The reduction of sentences to time served for those who qualify is not a pardon, since the record of their conviction and sentence stands and will almost invariably mean a much longer sentence should they reoffend in future.

Even in the present clemency order, those who were released early as a result of previous orders but then reoffended cannot benefit this time and must stay to serve the full sentence.

Executive clemency is one of those presidential powers that require Cabinet consent and usually originates in a recommendation from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Prisoners barred from clemency and who have to stay in jail and serve their full terms are: those previously released on amnesty; those sentenced by courts martial; those with a record of escaping from lawful custody; and those convicted of committing one of the specified offences, which include most violent crime.

The specified offences listed in the order include: murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, carjacking, robbery, public violence, human trafficking, unlawful possession of firearm, contravention of the Electricity Act, contravention of the Postal and Telecommunications Act, contravention of the Public Order and Security Act or the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act. The order makes it clear that those who conspired, incited or attempted any of the specified offences also stay behind bars.

According to the order, a full remission of the remaining period of imprisonment is granted to all convicted female prisoners, save for those convicted of specified offences so long as they had served one third of the sentence by 18 April this year.

All juveniles under the age of 18 go free so long as they had served a third of the sentence by 18 April with only those convicted of public violence staying inside. Age determination will be based on the birth certificate or dental age estimation.

Male prisoners who were sentenced to 48 months and below and have served one third of their sentence by April 18 can be released provided they were not convicted for specified offences. Those serving effective sentence above 48 months and have served at least one third of the sentence, will have their sentences reduced by a quarter unless they are inside for specified offences.

Terminally ill prisoners certified by a correctional medical officer or a Government medical officer go free regardless of offence but the Department of Correctional Services must liaise with Social Welfare so that they continue treatment after release.

Inmates at open prisons were also pardoned regardless of offence. Those aged 60 years and above and have served one tenth of their sentence by April 18 go free unless sentenced to life imprisonment, death or convicted for public violence.

For some of the specified offences, the prisoner can go free “provided the inmate would have served three quarters of the sentence after the usual one third remission by 18 April. But those in jail for public violence, robbery, treason, Electricity Act, Postal and Telecommunications Act and Public Order and Security Act or Maintenance of Peace and Order Act are excluded.

The qualifying period of at least 20 years for prisoners serving life sentences includes any period where they were under sentence of death before their sentence was altered to life imprisonment.

The disabled, those medically certified as blind and those physically challenged to the extent that they cannot be catered for in a prison or correctional environment, will regardless of the offence, go out.

The Herald

Positive Eye News

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