HAVANA: Cuba has pardoned 787 prisoners in response to Pope Francis's call for world leaders to show mercy to inmates, authorities said today.
The communist country's powerful Council of State, headed by President Raul Castro, issued the sweeping pardon in honor of the Jubilee year declared by the pope, said a front-page notice in the official communist party newspaper, Granma.
Pope Francis declared the Jubilee year last December, a special time of remission of sins and universal pardon. Cuba said those pardoned included women, youths and sick inmates. "The crimes for which they were punished, their conduct while fulfilling their sentences and the time served were taken into consideration," it said.
Prisoners convicted of murder, homicide, corrupting minors, rape, drug trafficking and other "extremely dangerous" crimes were excluded. Francis kicked off the Jubilee with calls to world leaders to improve prison conditions for inmates and consider granting them amnesty.
In September last year, Cuba released 3,522 prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of a visit by the pope. Cuba does not release data on its prisoner population.
Anti-Castro dissidents say the figure is high for an island of 11 million people. Authorities did not say whether any dissidents were among those pardoned.
Castro's opponents accuse the regime of holding dozens of political prisoners -- something he denies. Francis played a key part in bringing together the United States and Cuba for secret talks on patching up their relations after decades of Cold War enmity -- culminating in the December 2014 announcement of a historic thaw. The Catholic Church has taken on the role of mediator with the Cuban government in recent years.
That marks a rapprochement after years of tension under Castro's predecessor and older brother Fidel, the father of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Under Fidel Castro, Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1976 to 1992.