For weeks now, there have been fears in most Cameroonian detention facilities as the coronavirus pandemic spreads nationwide. A latest decision by President Paul Biya to decongest prisons by commuting some sentences, has not adressed rumours of cases of the virus in prisons.
Inmates’ fear was heightened by the sudden deaths and the rush of some prisoners for medical care out of jail. Despite government’s silence, human rights group, Amnesty International has confirmed that at least one case of the virus was recorded in the dreaded Kondengui prison.
The organization further says it has information that “the number of current and former detainees tested positive could be much higher. “With prisons in Cameroon noted for poor conditions, Fabien Offner, Amnesty International West and Central Africa researcher believes the detention centres risk becoming epicenters of the pandemic unless urgent action is taken”.
“Authorities must take all necessary measures to allow those in prison to enjoy standard health-care services free of charge and without discrimination, and to urgently reduce the overall number of people in detention” Fabien adds.
Welcoming the release of hundreds of inmates from different prisons following the President’s commutation of sentences, Amnesty international says it remains far from sufficient.
“Measures to fight the spread of the virus in detention facilities should include the release of detainees who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 such as the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions” the human rights body opines. With the lack of adequate medical care as a key challenge, Amnesty International reveals that most inmates who present COVID-19 symptoms are treated using hot liquids mixed with ginger and garlic.
At least two sick detainees died shortly after their release with one buried in conditions applied to COVID-19 deaths without the presence of his family, although no test was made to determine the cause of death the rights group adds. To Fabien Offner, their dignity as humans was undermined.
“Keeping elderly or sick people in detention or releasing them just to blow their last breath outside is inhumane. Authorities must treat prisoners with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings… Continuing to fill prisons with people who have done nothing but exercising their right to freedom of expression is not only a violation of international law, but is also hampering efforts to contain the virus” say Fabien.
Like in the situation of calls for the release of journalists jailed for doing their jobs, the Cameroon government has also maintained silence after calls for the further decongestion of prisons including the release of persons jailed for expressing their political views.
Mimi Mefo Info