President John Magufuli of Tanzania has ordered the release of at least 5,500 inmates from the country’s overcrowded prisons at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the country’s independence from colonial rule.
The populist president, who has publicly expressed both sympathy and derision for the country’s prison population, announced the mass pardon at an event marking Tanzania’s national day.
“I believe this will relieve those who were jailed on minor charges, and those who were unable to have lawyers represent them or money to pay fines,” Magufuli said in Mwanza, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria.
“The pardon will also help to decongest our prisons.”
Magufuli, who came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people”, has toured overcrowded prisons in the past and ordered authorities to free those being held for long stretches without trial.
Tanzania’s current prison population is around 36,000, the government says, with some facilities considerably over capacity.
In July, Magufuli said his visit to a jail in Mwanza left him “saddened” because many prisoners had languished there many years without trial.