DHAKA (AFP) — Authorities in emergency-ruled Bangladesh said Monday they will release up to 1,000 prison inmates in a bid to ease pressure on the country's critically overcrowded jails following a crackdown on crime.
Overcrowding has long been a problem in Bangladesh's jails but has been exacerbated by the interim government's clampdown on crime -- and in particular corruption -- in which thousands have been arrested across the country.
National prisons chief Brigadier Zakir Hassan told AFP the south Asian country's 66 prisons are currently holding 87,549 inmates -- three times the 27,400 they are designed to house.
"We have made a list of criminals who have served half of their terms. They would be freed after their cases are scrutinised by police, magistrates and prison officials," he said.
"Initially our plan is to release up to 1,000 inmates. It will ease some pressure on the country's overcrowded prisons."
The move comes as the country's national police chief Nur Mohammad said about 25,000 people had been detained since May 28 as part of a nationwide crackdown on criminals ahead of elections scheduled for December.
He also rejected complaints from human rights groups and two major parties -- the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) -- that their politicians and activists were being rounded up.
"Since we launched the special drive, we have been arresting 300 extra people a day than we normally do. We are arresting only those against whom there are specific allegations, cases or warrants," he said.
"Among around 25,000, only 194 have been arrested under the emergency laws," he said, adding, "The arrests were not politically motivated."
The wave of arrests began days after the two parties said they would boycott talks with the army-backed administration on organising elections unless their leaders were freed.
The government has since released Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina on parole and allowed her to travel to the United States, and has announced plans to free BNP leader Khaleda Zia.
Both leaders have called for authorities to stop "blanket arrests".
The military-backed government, which came to power in January 2007 after emergency rule was imposed and elections cancelled, last year detained thousands of party activists in a bid to clean-up the country's graft-ridden politics.
More than 150 top politicians have been arrested during the drive, while dozens of former ministers and ex-lawmakers have been jailed for up to 20 years.
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