This week will see the pardoning of lucky inmates across Spain chosen for release by the Church as part of an Easter tradition dating back more than two centuries.

Three prisoners will on Wednesday walk free having been chosen by the Jesus El Rico brotherhood in Malaga under a privilege granted by King Carlos III in the 18th century.

The convicts chosen for release this year are two men and a woman identified as Manuel CL who was jailed for drug trafficking, Antonia LR who was sentenced for a public health offence and Jorge MR who was found guilty in October 2018 for violent robbery.

Prisoners are normally released as part of a ceremony tied in with the processions carried out by the brotherhood on the Wednesday of Semana Santa, but because they are cancelled this year as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the prisoners will instead be released after a service at Malaga cathedral.

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Easter processions are cancelled this year in Spain. Photo ByVidar Nordli Mathisen /Unsplash

Legend has it that the tradition to release selected prisoners at Easter begun when 1759 a riot broke out in a Malaga prison after inmates found out Easter processions would be cancelled due to a plague outbreak.

They were so outraged that they forced their way out of jail in order to carry Jesus’ image through the streets. Then, much to everyone’s surprise they returned to their cells.

King Carlos III was so impressed that from that day on he decided to free two dozen convicts every Easter.  

The tradition, that echoes the liberation of Barabbas at the expense of Christ, lives on to this day, benefiting around 15 prisoners a year across Spain.

All cases are subject to the same conditions as any other official pardon, which are described in the state bulletin publishing this year’s list of reprieved prisoners as “reasons of justice, equity or benefit for the general public”.


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