HAVANA: Communist-run Cuba, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, has pardoned 2,604 convicts, state-run media reported on Friday (Jul 20), without releasing a list of those pardoned.
Cuba's Council of State took the decision based on prisoners' behaviour, time served, the nature of their crime and whether they were afflicted by illness, according to the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma.
It favoured women, youths and elderly people while excluding those convicted of murder, rape, child abuse and drug trafficking, corruption and repeat offenders. All had served at least a third of their sentences.
Cuban authorities, who do not regularly publish data on the island's prison population, reported in 2012 that 57,337 of its 11.2 million inhabitants were behind bars.
That would put it in sixth place in the global ranking of prison population per capita, topped by the United States, according to the London-based Institute for Criminal Policy Research.
The Madrid-based rights group Cuban Prisoners Defenders estimates the real number is much higher, putting it in the top spot. Around 123,000 of the country's 11.2 million inhabitants - about 1 percent of the population - are currently behind bars, it says.
Cuba has pardoned thousands of prisoners in recent years, in particular prior to papal visits. In late 2016, it pardoned 787 convicts in response to Pope Francis' call to all heads of state for acts of clemency.
Dissident groups could not immediately say whether members of their organizations were among those released.
Cuban Prisoners Defenders, which has links to Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, estimates there are 138 members of dissident organizations in prison.
Thousands of Cubans are also serving time for "pre-criminal social dangerousness," a crime the group says authorities use to rein in any kind of dissent.
The government, which considers dissidents a tiny and illegitimate minority in the pay of the United States to overthrow the government, denies it has any political prisoners.