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November 22, 2012

Amnesty: Thousands Untried, 'Lost' in Mozambique Prisons

by Selah Hennessy

LONDON—Mozambique's prisons are riddled with problems including serious overcrowding and cases of inmates being held without trial for years, according to an Amnesty International report published Thursday.
 
The London-headquartered human rights group says many of those incarcerated without having been found guilty of a crime are without access to a lawyer or even automatic access to a telephone. As a result, the report indicates, many languish for years without recourse to justice.
 
"We found the case of a man who had been detained for twelve years in a maximum-security prison," said the group's Mozambique researcher Maluka-Anne Miti, referring to José Capitine Cossa, who was arrested for selling sculptures on the side of the road. "He might not be the only one who is there for twelve years. Since then we have heard of people who have been there for five years, seven years — so these are not sporadic cases."
 
Mozambican law says people cannot be held without trial for longer than 11 months, and authorities say cases in which people have been held beyond that time are isolated. But Amnesty disagrees, citing research it carried out in collaboration with Mozambique Human Rights League, visiting five prisons as well as other detention centers.
 
According to Miti, the report's documented cases offer a mere glimpse into much wider systemic problems. For example, records of a delegation visit to Nampula Provincial Prison, a pre-trial detention center with a 90-inmate capacity, documents 22 prisoners and 365 detainees, putting the facility more than 400-percent over capacity.
 
In some of the cells, Miti said detainees were forced to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder in seated positions because there wasn't enough space to lie down.
 
The report also identifies a number of inmates who said they were under 16 years of age. Prison authorities told Amnesty that the burden of proof was on the detainees to prove their age.
 
The rights group is calling on police, judiciary officials and government ministers must bring an end to arbitrary arrests and improve detention conditions.
 
Mozambique authorities told Amnesty they would investigate the cases highlighted in the report.