More than 500 prisoners held in jails across Nepal were granted amnesty on the country's Republic Day on Friday, a move prompted by damage caused to many prisons by last month's devastating earthquake.
On Thursday, the government recommended to President Ram Baran Yadav to grant amnesty to 541 prisoners who had not been convicted for heinous crimes and had served more than half of their sentence.
"The President has pardoned the remainder of sentences of 541 prisoners on the occasion of Republic Day under provisions of the interim constitution," said a statement by Yadav's spokesperson Chakra Bahadur Buda.
There is a tradition of granting amnesty to prisoners during important festivals like Dashain and Tihar and on Republic Day. This year’s Republic Day is not being celebrated due to the 7.9-magnitude temblor of April 25.
"The devastating April 25 earthquake has damaged jails and some of the inmates have died in the quake. The damaged structures can't be repaired immediately," said a circular from the home ministry to all prisons that sought names of prisoners for granting of amnesty.
"The security of inmates has become a serious concern as aftershocks are continuing and the rainy season is about to begin," it said.
Those granted amnesty did not include prisoners convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Sixteen prisoners held in the central jail in Kathmandu were killed and more than 90 others injured when a section of the building collapsed in the April 25 quake.
Three of Nepal’s 74 prisons were destroyed by the temblor and 36 others damaged. Taking advantage of the situation, 220 prisoners escaped from the damaged prisons.
One of them, top Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Irfan Ahmad, escaped from Sindhupalchok prison and returned to India. He was later arrested at Bharaich in Uttar Pradesh by Delhi Police.
Following the quake, authorities at several places were forced to house prisoners in tents. There was an appeal from their families and rights bodies to release them on humanitarian grounds.
But the Nepal government refused to grant a general amnesty to all prisoners.
Prisons across the country have the capacity to hold nearly 10,000 prisoners but most of them are overcrowded as the total number of prisoners is close to 17,000.