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Iraqi president frees all prisoners, except 'spies'

Iraqis mark Saddam's 100 percent referendum success
Iraqis mark Saddam's 100 percent referendum success

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CNN's Nic Robertson says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein frees all but those accused of spying for the U.S. and Israel (October 20)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered Sunday that all prisoners be released, including non-Iraqi Arabs, with the exception of those accused of spying for the United States or Israel.

Saddam won a 100 percent victory in an uncontested election Tuesday to remain the nation's leader for another seven years.

Even murderers were being freed on the condition that they make restitution to victims' families -- including financial compensation -- within one month, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf told reporters.

After the presidential decree was issued, al-Sahhaf read a statement clarifying that killers would be freed, but must seek forgiveness from the victims' relatives to remain free.

"Prisoners and detainees would be set free immediately except in the case of those who are sentenced or detained because of killing, and they would be set free only if the families of victims would forgive them, or if they hand back their debts to the government or people," the decree said.

In a televised address, al-Sahhaf asked the Iraqi people to welcome the prisoners back into society and forgive them.

The amnesty includes political prisoners -- for the first time in Saddam's 23 years in power.

The decree also forgives fugitives and people wanted on charges outside of Iraq, including those facing a death sentence.

CNN Correspondent Jane Arraf said busloads of just-released prisoners waved white handkerchiefs and danced. Outside jails, relatives waited to greet family members.

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