At least 16 Zimbabwean prisoners have reportedly escaped the hangman, after President Emmerson Mnangagwa commuted their death sentences to life in jail. According to the state-owned Herald newspaper, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services said Mnangagwa had "saved" the lives of 16 inmates who were on death row, after he had "forgiven" at least 3 000 prisoners last week. Prisons and Correctional Services spokesperson Elizabeth Banda said that there were at least 173 prisoners at the Harare Central Prison who were being released. She said that those who had been on death row for more than 10 years had their sentences reduced to life.As of January, there were 99 death row inmates in Zimbabwe.The country last carried out an execution in 2005 and the last hangman, who retired in 2006, has not yet been replaced.In a statement, human rights group, Amnesty International has welcomed the decision, saying it was a commendable first steps and Mnangagwa should work towards abolishing the death penalty. “He has taken a very progressive step in deciding to spare the prisoners from the hangman’s noose. His action is commendable, but he must build on this positive momentum by ensuring that Zimbabwe abolishes the death penalty completely."President Mnangagwa must build on this positive momentum by ensuring that Zimbabwe abolishes the death penalty completely,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.The Associated Press has reported that Mnangagwa, who was once sentenced to hang during the struggle for the country’s independence, has always expressed has opposition to the death penalty. KEEP UPDATED on the latest news from around the continent by subscribing to our FREE newsletter, Hello Africa.FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook.