Cameroonian authorities is urged to come clean on the reality of the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s prisons, provide detainees with adequate medical care and stop exacerbating overcrowding with arbitrary arrests.
Amnesty International confirms that at least one prisoner has tested positive for the virus at the “Kondengui” central prison in Yaoundé and has been taken to a health facility outside the prison.
While authorities have not confirmed or denied the presence of the virus in detention facilities, Amnesty International received information stating the number of current and former detainees tested positive could be much higher.
“As COVID-19 spreads in Cameroon, it is essential that detainees and their families have access to accurate information about the virus. The poor conditions in detention centres mean they risk becoming epicenters of the pandemic unless urgent action is taken,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International West and Central Africa researcher.
“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.”
According to the National commission on human rights and freedoms, the occupancy rate was high in many prisons in Cameroon, reaching 432 % in ‘’Kondengui’’, 729% in Bertoua prison (East), 481% in Sangmelima (South) and 567% in Kumba Main Prison (South-West).
Following a 15 April presidential decree commuting and remitting sentences, hundreds of prisoners have been released in all the regions.
While this is a first welcome step in reducing overcrowding in prisons, 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.
Most inmates who present COVID-19 symptoms are treated using hot liquids mixed with ginger and garlic.
Last month, five other deaths have been reported in a week, according to independent sources. A letter sent on 21 April to the Ministry of Justice on behalf of detainees highlighted the persistent overcrowding, describing the nursing station in prisons as “saturated with sick detainees” and the medical staff as “overwhelmed”.
On 23 April, authorities announced measures aimed at containing the virus inside the central prison in Yaoundé, including the suspension of outside chores, the establishment of observation cells for suspected COVID-19 cases, disinfection operations and the application of barrier gestures.
According to information received by Amnesty International, at least two sick detainees died shortly after their release. One was 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.
Even if authorities recently released some detainees, they failed to positively respond to the National commission on human rights and freedoms’ call to release the elderly who are most vulnerable to the virus, and to the UN call to release sick detainees, and those jailed without legal basis, including prisoners of conscience. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)