Congo's President Joseph Kabila has issued a series of pardons meant to ease tensions around upcoming elections.

Those affected include a half-dozen pro-democracy activists recently arrested for insisting that Kabila respect the constitution and not stay in power beyond his mandate, which expires at the end of this year.

The pardons were announced Friday, a day after the visit of the U.N. human rights chief, who expressed concern about restrictions on freedom of expression as the elections approach.

The government announcement also changes existing death sentences to life sentences in prison, and existing life sentences to 20-year sentences.

It also orders the early release of women and those 65 or older and 30 or younger, with some exceptions.

This central Africa country has never had a peaceful transfer of power.