On Eve of Papal Visit, Cuba Pardons Over 3,000 Prisoners

Image: A public bus passes by the Capitol in Havana
A public bus passes by the Capitol in Havana, April 15, 2015.ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI / Reuters

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

The Cuban Council of State has pardoned 3,522 prisoners as a goodwill gesture on the eve of the papal visit to the island. Most are people who were found guilty of committing common felonies and not crimes of political nature.

According to the government, prisoners will be released in the next few days. They will include those over 60 years of age, others under 20 with no prior convictions, prisoners with good behavior, women, those with health issues and others who would be eligible for parole in 2016.

The Cuban government also stated that foreigners included in the pardon will be released if their country of origin agrees to take them back, though no additional details were given.

Generally excluded from the pardon are prisoners serving time for murder, manslaughter, rape, sexual abuse of minors, drug trafficking, illegal slaughter of cattle, aggravated assault, robbery with force and crimes against the state.

The Council of State notes that the government made similar gestures in the eve of the two prior papal visits.

In response to the news, the Washington, D.C.-based organization #CubaNow said this represented progress, though they called attention to the issue of political prisoners.

"This is the largest release of prisoners on the Island since 1959, and it is safe to say that this would not be happening if not for the Holy Father's role in changing U.S.-Cuba relations, and the progress that has been made since," said #CubaNow executive director Ric Herrero. "At the same time, we are disappointed by reports suggesting that political prisoners may not be among those pardoned, and urge the Cuban government to reconsider as a gesture of goodwill."

—NBC's Mary Murray contributed to this report.