Kenya, Somalia order release of prisoners to contain COVID-19 pandemic

Kenya and Somalia on Thursday became the latest African countries to release prisoners in an attempt to decongest the prisons and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Kenya released 3,837 prisoners and remandees out of whom 898 had already served their sentences, 2,267 had their sentences revised by courts and 627 who had their bail or bond terms reviewed by courts.

“These measures have been taken in line with the understanding that close and unprotected interaction/contact between individuals is the single-most contributory factor for the spread of COVID-19. The decision is thus aimed at achieving the recommended one-metre social distancing within our facilities as part of the progressive review of our strategies in combating the global pandemic,” a statement from the Kenya Prisons Service read in part.

In addition, the country’s Chief Justice David Maraga directed that petty and traffic offenders must never be held at police stations for more than 24 hours. Maraga said that such offenders should be released on either cash bail or free police bond.

“To enhance transparency and accountability, the Police will establish centralized records showing the number of people arrested and handled in all police stations and the terms of their release on bail or bond. This will be regularly monitored by Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and periodic reports submitted to the NCAJ members.”

Meanwhile, Somali President Mohamed Farmajo pardoned 148 prisoners as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Farmajo said the release of the prisoners with petty crimes follows a report submitted to him by the country’s attorney general on the conditions of the prisoners in the country in the wake of COVID-19.

The president also directed prison authorities and the ministry of health to take adequate measures to prevent health risks for the remaining inmates.

Algeria and Libya have released several prisoners while Ethiopia and Sudan have also ordered the release of several inmates to prevent the COVID-19 spreading in jails.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday called on countries to protect people in detention from the COVID-19 pandemic by releasing vulnerable prisoners.