DRC: in Kinshasa, the plight of detainees in Makala prison

View of Makala prison in Kinshasa, DRC (illustration). AFP PHOTO / JUNIOR D. KANNAH

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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, concern is growing among prisoners in the country's largest prison, Makala central prison, which is also the most overcrowded. The one reserved for the military, the Ndolo prison, has already recorded around a hundred cases of COVID - 19. Makala, built since colonial times in the capital Kinshasa, has more than 8,000 detainees. This is four times more than its capacity. Prisoners fear that the epidemic will break out within its walls ... It is a real cry of alarm.


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with our correspondent in Kinshasa, Pascal Mulegwa

Residents are crammed into hundreds in collective cells and without beds. On images received by RFI, we see them piled up, some sleeping head to tail. In Pavilion 5, for example, most detainees have no place to lie down. “  We take turns sleeping in an indescribable environment and social distancing is almost impossible,  ” says one of them. Some of his fellow prisoners suffer from chronic illnesses. In this cell, there is only one place to relieve yourself. And 200 prisoners who go there every day.

Likewise, water "  rarely flows: three times or four times a week and this for an hour,  " says a prisoner who nevertheless lives in a cell, reserved for the middle class. Like all prisons in the Congo, Makala has fewer convicts than preventive detainees, there are even people who have been acquitted, sometimes for even more than two years.

Meager meals

In this environment, each detainee lives within his means. Some survive from prisoners' solidarity but also from meals provided by their families. Even without the coronavirus, death is well planned in Makala,  " worries one of the prisoners. It has been ten years since this prisoner - who has not yet been sentenced - no longer took the meals provided by the government: a small goblet of corn mixed with beans (156 corn seeds and 127 bean seeds). But since he has been unable to receive his family's visit for two weeks, he must now be content with this meager ration.

Those who eat these meals often complain of stomach aches, says a member of the prison's medical staff. He claims that at least 90% of the detainees are immune deficient.

New detainees despite overcrowding

Contacted, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Justice, Célestin Tunda, said he had inherited this prison system. As for the lack of food and medicine, he evokes the “financial health” of the State which is not good. However, this did not prevent the authorities from sending new detainees to prison. For about a month, nearly 600 detainees have been sent to Makala, according to a prison source.

Human Right Watch (HRW) calls on the Congolese authorities to demonstrate their good faith by rapidly reducing the prison population and to release funds for food and improve hygiene. The human rights NGO notes that Makala prison is ranked among the most overcrowded in the world.

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