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Burundi begins releasing prisoners in bid to stop overcrowding

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Burundi freed some 1,300 prisoners on Monday at the beginning of a presidential pardon, which aims to free up overcrowded jails.

At a prison in Bujumbura, almost 1,000 inmates left their cells at a ceremony attended by President Evariste Ndayishimiye.

A total of 5,255 inmates, 40 percent of Burundi's prison population, will be released in the coming weeks. 3,000 will be imminently released and another 2,000 will have their sentences cut.

“In our country, what has crippled us is a lot of crimes, offenses committed that the state has not sanctioned so that some people have thought that committing a crime is a sign of bravery," said President Ndayishimiye, warning detainees against a relapse.

"The blood crimes of the past have their roots there when people see that killing is not a crime."

The detainees, including those arrested in 2015 following the demonstrations against the third term of the late President Nkurunziza, say they are relieved.

They also thanked Ndayishimiye and hope that others will have the same chance.

"I feel happy because this is the first time that a president has come to free the prisoners himself," said former prisoner Kabura Muhamed who was one of the beneficiaries.

"Even in our families, they have already had this good news. It’s joy. God bless him for this act. I was imprisoned in 2016 for political motives."