Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 17:30 UK

Kenya empties its death-row cells

By Will Ross
BBC News, Nairobi

Kenyan prisoners
Kenyan prisoners can spend years locked up awaiting trial

More than 4,000 prisoners on death row in Kenya will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, President Mwai Kibaki has announced.

No death sentences have been carried out in Kenya for more than two decades.

Since then more than 4,000 people have been on death row in the country's overcrowded, underfunded prisons.

Giving reasons for commuting all these sentences to life imprisonment, President Kibaki said the law did not allow those prisoners to work.

He said this had led to idleness and had affected general prison discipline.

The impact on the prisoners' mental health was also given as a reason.

Human rights groups will welcome the fact that more than 4,000 prisoners are no longer on death row but will hope that this leads to the eventual scrapping of the death penalty in Kenya.

President Kibaki noted that the decision did not in any way suggest the abolition of the death penalty but said he had directed the government to assess whether the punishment was having any impact on the fight against crime.

Prisoners in Kenya and in many other African countries can spend years locked up awaiting trial.

The Kenyan government has long promised judicial and prison reform.

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