Amnesty warns of Mozambican jail crisis
22 November 2012, 14:10
Maputo - Amnesty International claimed on Thursday that thousands of prisoners were languishing in Mozambique's prisons without charge or access to proper legal representation.
In a report, the rights group catalogued a slew of alleged abuses, from detention of minors and prison overcrowding to arbitrary arrests and police torture.
The findings, reached in conjunction with Mozambique's Human Rights League, came from inspections of three prisons in the capital, Maputo, and two in the northern province of Nampula in February this year.
Amnesty claims to have found hundreds of cases of prolonged detention ranging from 12 months to 12 years.
According to Mozambican law people cannot be held on remand for longer than 11 months.
"This is a drop in the ocean and we went to only two cities," Amnesty International's Mozambique Researcher, Maluka-Anne Miti told AFP.
Amnesty said one Mozambican man spent 12 years inside a maximum security prison in the Mozambican capital without ever being told why he had been arrested, or receiving a court hearing.
Police arrested Jose Capitine Cossa while selling crafts by the side of the road in 2001.
Authorities released him earlier this year after the Attorney General determined his detention had been "irregular".
"He could not remember where he was from or his address," said Miti.
People arrested in Mozambique do not automatically get the right to a phone call.
"If you don't have a lawyer and if your family does not know where you are you have no way of getting out," she said.
Thirty-three percent of the over 16 000 prisoners in Mozambique's overcrowded jails are awaiting trial, the country's Attorney General, Augusto Paulino told parliament in May.
Amnesty also uncovered instances of arbitrary arrests and cases of police torture in order to extract confessions.
In one case, says the report, police asked the father of a 15-year-old girl if they could beat her to force her to confess to her mother's murder.
Her father refused but she went to prison anyway.
Having already served close to two years in pre-trial detention, she was released, aged 17.
"Sixteen is the age of responsibility here but we saw people who looked younger and said they were younger than that," says Miti explaining that authorities put the onus on detainees to prove their age.
"In Mozambique, people do not have IDs, especially not at that age," she added.
Overcrowding is also said to be a serious problem.
At one prison in the northern Nampula province, inmates were crammed into cells so tightly that they could not lie down and had to sleep in shifts.
"In one cell we saw 192 people with only one toilet," says Miti.
The report comes in the wake of a mass prison break in the north-western province of Tete.
About 46 prisoners broke out of jail on Sunday local media reported. The prison, built to house 80, was housing 500, authorities said.
Prison riots are also common.
In September this year prisoners in the city of Beira rioted over poor food and sanitary conditions.