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Rights Groups: Cameroon Prisons Severely Overcrowded

Human rights groups in Cameroon say prisons constructed for 500 detainees are housing more than 3,000 people, many of whom can be held for years without charge in inhumane conditions. The government says it is working on solutions.

Aristus Beba has been locked up at the Kondengui central prison for five years. The 26-year-old says he has never stood trial.

“My elder brother accused me of stealing money from the house and I was taken here. I have been beaten up several times here. I had to clean the toilet every time. Any small food they bring for me here they take every thing. I don't have anything. I am really suffering here," said Beba.

Kondengui prison was constructed for 750 inmates but now holds more than 4,000 men, women and children.

Cameroon National Institute of Statistics reports there are about 30,000 peopleheld in the country's 78 prisons.

The law requires police to transfer a detainee to prison 24 hours after an arrest.

Chairman of Cameroon's National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Che Mutta Divine:

"Not all the persons in prison are criminals. There are too many people there who only find themselves in through the system that is in place. You see young people who should be out helping in production and improving the economy. They are there in their great numbers. They are tortured. Prisons should not be torture centers. We have said this clear and clear," said Divine.

Cameroon's secretary of state in charge of penitentiary administration, Doh Gerome, says reforms are planned.

"We have the vision of reintroducing what used to be known as production prisons so that by the time the inmates come out of prison, out of detention, they would have known certain trades which will help them to be rehabilitated in the society," said Gerome.

In September, Amnesty International said in the Maroua prison near Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria, half of the 1,300 prisoners were Boko Haram suspects. Amnesty said prisoners are housed without proper hygiene or healthcare and some are even held in chains.

Rights groups working on Cameroon's eastern border with the Central African Republic say refugees who have left camps because of difficult living conditions are being arrested and locked up.

The government denies accusations from rights groups that refugees from the C.A.R. and Boko Haram suspects are swelling prison populations.

But Cameroon's government spokesperson, Issa Tchiroma, says they are aware of congestion and inhumane treatment.

"It is a problem that we know very well and as you said, you are perfectly right. Justice delayed is justice denied. The government is committed, is engaged to speed up the trial of all of those, not only Boko Haram. We have our brothers and our sisters who are in jail for a given time and unfortunately who are not tried for many reasons, understandable and justifiable reasons," said Tchiroma.

Tchiroma says financial constraints are holding up construction of more prisons.