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AFP
December 10, 2019

Tanzania to free 5,500 inmates from overcrowded prisons

World

AFP
December 10, 2019

DAR ES SALAAM: President John Magufuli on Monday ordered that around 5,500 inmates be freed from Tanzania’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.

But he also drew criticism from rights watchdogs in 2018 by ordering that prisoners be made to work "day and night" and suggesting they should grow their own food and be kicked if they are lazy.

Magufuli’s talent for high-profile appearances that bolster his reputation as a no-nonsense leader have made him wildly popular among some. But his intolerance of criticism, impulsiveness and disregard for due process worry others who see authoritarianism at the core of his populism.