Bangladesh frees 1,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding

Suspected criminal in Bangladesh arrested by the army Campaigners say conditions would improve in jails if those awaiting trial were released

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About 1,000 long-serving prisoners in Bangladesh have been released in a bid to ease overcrowding in jails.

Officials say it is the first time that so many prisoners serving life terms have been freed.

Normally, prisoners sentenced to life for violent crimes have to serve at least 30 years in jail.

Campaigners say Bangladesh's 67 prisons are notoriously overcrowded - holding 75,000 inmates - and living conditions inside them are appalling.

They say that the country's jails are holding three times more inmates than their capacity, and are filthy, unhygienic and almost without medical facilities.

The campaigners warn that the situation has now reached a critical point.

Officials admit that overcrowding is a major issue, but say they are releasing these prisoners because they have served more than 20 years.

A number of female prisoners were among those freed on Thursday.

"We will release more prisoners in future because the process has already started," prisons inspector general Ashraful Islam told the BBC.

Reports say prison overcrowding is particularly severe in women's facilities.

Abuse claims

Dhaka's central jail is currently holding 540 female prisoners, although officially the facility should only hold 134 inmates.

Activists say rights abuses are common and prisoners are often victims of violence inflicted by the prison guards.

They say that overcrowding also causes contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Independent observers are not usually allowed in to see the conditions of prisoners.

Activists say one way to reduce the overcrowding would be to release those prisoners who have spent years awaiting trial.

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