Cuba’s government has pardoned 3,522 prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of a September 19-22 visit by Pope Francis, the official daily Granma announced on Friday.
Among those pardoned were prisoners over 60 years of age or younger than 20 and without a criminal record, women and the chronically ill, and foreigners whose countries of origin have vowed to repatriate them, the newspaper said.
There was no immediate indication of whether any of those to be pardoned included people considered political prisoners by dissidents or human rights organisations.
The decision is due to be effective within 72 hours.
“On the occasion of the visit by His Holiness Pope Francis, the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba (the highest governmental body) … agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners chosen due to the nature of the acts for which they were jailed, their behaviour in prison, the length of their punishment and health concerns,” the paper said.
President Raul Castro’s government granted a pardon to 2,991 prisoners on the occasion of a visit by Francis’s predecessor, pope Benedict, in December 2011.
The latest prisoner release is the largest since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, who was replaced for health reasons by his brother Raul in 2006.
In an earlier gesture of goodwill following the historic normalisation of relations with the United States that began late last year, Cuba pardoned 53 inmates in January whom Washington classified as “political prisoners”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)