(Bloomberg) -- Rwandan President Paul Kagame pardoned thousands of prisoners including an opposition party leader and a political activist, the Justice Ministry said.

The announcement follows criticism by rights activists of Kagame for stifling dissent and comes as the country seeks to widen its global influence. Kagame is the current head of the African Union and his government is lobbying to lead the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, which works to promote cooperation between French-speaking nations and states on issues including human rights and democracy.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Kizito Mihigo are among 2,140 convicts being released before serving their full sentences, the ministry said in a statement on its website. Ingabire, a former presidential candidate, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013, after being convicted for conspiring against the government, while musician Mihigo was jailed for 10 years in 2015 after writing a song critical of the government.

The sentences were “commuted by presidential prerogative following their most recent applications for clemency,” the ministry said. Rwandan law provides for the early release of prisoners for good behavior or if the convicts are suffering from incurable diseases, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saul Butera in Kigali at sbutera2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net, Stefania Bianchi

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