GITEGA, 9 March 2021 – A presidential pardon in Burundi will free 5,255 prisoners as the country struggles to shrink the population of overcrowded jails.
In publishing the presidential pardon, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye said he is “convinced that an exceptional measure of clemency is needed to decongest prisons and improve conditions of detention”.
About 40 percent of the country’s estimated 13,200 prisoners will benefit from the clemency.
Rights groups say Burundi’s jails are built to hold only 4,100 prisoners.
The majority of beneficiaries are prisoners serving five years in prison or below.
A limited number of inmates sentenced to prison for participating in armed groups or for so-called crimes against the security of the state will benefit from the presidential pardon.
Inmates serving time for corruption will also be freed on the condition that they pay back funds they swindled.
“Any measure of pardon is to be praised, given the overpopulation in Burundi’s prisons,” said Pacifique Nininahazwe, an exiled member of civil society.
Nininahazwe regretted that some of the criteria outlined in the presidential pardon “exclude many of the political prisoners arrested since the start of 2015 crisis in Burundi”.
President Ndayishimiye was elected last May on a pledge to open up the country and renew with internatonal partners following years of sanctions and isolation.
Former Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died last year from complications from COVID-19, was blamed for overloading the prisons of the country with political dissidents.
Rights groups accused his regime of arbitrary arrests, torture of dissidents, summary executions, and enforced disappearances of opponents.