(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Prison system criticised for ill-treatment

[DRC] A prisoner sits next to a decaying building in the Central prison, Kisangani, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), May 2006. After years of civil war and decades of unrest, the country’s infrastructure has almost completely broken down.
Hugo Rämi/IRIN

Congo’s legal system has come under fire for delaying trials and keeping remand prisoners in jail for long periods in poor conditions.

The director of Brazzaville’s central prison, Colonel Sédar Oben, told IRIN: "Some are detained for six months, others for more than a year before they go to trial and most of them are detained for minor crimes.

"It is not normal to keep them indefinitely in prison. The court has to sentence them on time as they are losing their dignity."

Claude Ernest Ndalla, who was detained in Brazzaville in 1990 and is now a politician, criticised the prison conditions and raised concerns that young people become increasingly criminalised in jail.

"The prison administration is a major component of justice in the country," he added. "It should have more money in order to improve the quality of its performance."

A human rights watchdog, the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (OCDH), has also condemned the system. "This situation suggests judiciary authorities are violating the rights of people in custody," said OCDH’s Roch Euloge Nzobo.

Dinard Moubangat Mokonzi, a prosecutor, said magistrates were aware of the situation and were looking for solutions. "My colleagues and I are really trying to get through every case on time for everybody," he said. "Things will improve."

Oben said that in addition to making the trial process more efficient, the prison needed a bigger budget to properly feed its detainees. They currently receive only one meal a day, usually bread and fish.

A prisoner, who did not want to be named, said most cellmates slept on the floor, on cardboard or thin mattresses in their small cells, leaving them exposed to diseases.

On 23 January 2007, almost 200 prisoners led a protest over conditions. One was killed when he climbed a wall trying to escape, and there was a riot when inmates refused to return to their cells.

More than 300 prisoners are packed into the jail, built in 1944 and meant for 150 people. This prison is the only one in the capital city.

ai/re/sr/mw

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