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Colombia releases 4,000 prisoners over coronavirus

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Bogota (AFP)

Colombia on Wednesday ordered the temporary release of more than 4,000 prisoners, in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Two prisoners have already died from COVID-19 in the South American country.

The "humanitarian" releases are aimed at ensuring "that the people most vulnerable to the virus can get out of prison confinement and go to house arrest and improve their health protection," President Ivan Duque said on Colombian radio.

Among prisoners to benefit are those aged over 60, those with illness or disabilities, those who have served at least 40 percent of their sentence, breastfeeding mothers and others with children under three years old, said Justice Minister Margarita Cabello.

"This is one of the measures that we are adopting" to deal with the pandemic, Cabello said, adding that the number could increase.

After six months, the prisoners will have to return to prison to serve out their sentences. Breaking the terms of their house arrest would lead to them being re-imprisoned, the minister said.

The government decree does not apply to prisoners belonging to armed groups, or those convicted of drug trafficking, sexual crimes or crimes against humanity.

The move comes three weeks after rioting at a prison in Bogota left 23 dead and 91 wounded.

Colombia has recorded more than 3,000 coronavirus infections, including 127 deaths.

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