Cameroon President Paul Biya orders the release of 1,300 prisoners amid 'chronic' overcrowding

Cameroon has freed more than 1,300 prisoners in its two main cities in a bid to ease overcrowding and contain the spread of the new coronavirus, officials said.

This follows warnings from criminal justice experts that chronic overcrowding and underfunding have left prisons around the world vulnerable to being devastated by the coronavirus.

President Paul Biya signed a decree to commute sentences and free some prisoners in April. The country’s justice minister said that 608 prisoners had been freed in Doula, the economic capital, and another 700 released in the capital Yaounde.

More prisoners in other areas are in the process of being released, the ministry said. Exact numbers are yet to be determined.

Cameroon has officially registered 1,163 infections and 42 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the second most affected country in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa.

Cameroon has a prison population of around 30,000 with more than half of those awaiting sentencing and mostly held in overcrowded facilities.

Overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions and a high rate of illnesses such as tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS make the prison populations vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases globally stands at 2,699,338, while 188,437 deaths have been recorded, according to Johns Hopkins University.