FILE - Haiti's Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe.
FILE - Haiti's Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe.

WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe is asking Lucmane Delille, Haiti’s minister of justice and public security, to suspend the release of 415 prisoners who received a presidential pardon.

Presidential press secretary Eddy Jackson Alexis announced the news on Twitter, saying the decision was made during a ministerial video conference on Wednesday.

“In the interest of protecting the citizens and law and order in the Republic, prime minister @jouthejoseph is temporarily suspending prisoner pardons. An official document supporting this decision will be forthcoming,” the tweet said.

President Jovenel Moise's decree announcing the pardons to free up space in the country's overcrowded prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic was signed by the president, the prime minister and the justice and public security minister.

Critics say the prime minister does not have the authority to halt the prisoner releases and that only a presidential decree can reverse it. They also denounced the list for including rapists, notorious criminals and gang leaders.

FILE - Male prisoners in Gonaives board a bus that will transfer them to a jail in St Marc after an attempted jailbreak. (Photo: Exalus Mergenat / VOA)

Former opposition Sen. Jean Renel Senatus rejected the pardon of criminals whom he said will be able to regain their civilian rights and even run for public office in the future.

"They may be president, senator or deputy," Senatus told VOA, "because the pardon clearly states that prisoners’ civilian rights are immediately reinstated. I view this as a (security) threat."

Renan Hedouville, who heads the Office for the Protection of Oppressed Citizens, told VOA he sent a letter of complaint to the justice minister.

The National Association of Haitian Mayors and the National Bar Federation also criticized pardoning convicted criminals. The NBF also denied a claim made by the justice minister that he had discussed with them the early release as part of a plan to reduce prison overcrowding during the pandemic.

The NBF issued its own statement saying the discussions held with the justice minister did not touch upon the prisoner pardon. The statement said the only matter discussed was the criteria that would be used to determine which prisoners should be considered for pardons.

Jean Robert Phillipe contributed to this story.