COVID19 and social distancing in the Cameroon jails
Cameroon is one of the prosperous countries in Central Africa. As of 2020 she has a population of about 26.55 million and a total surface area of about 475.440 square kilometers. The country is made up of ten divisions, each of which is responsible for its own criminal jurisdiction.
However, most of the people arrested within different regions are taken to the Kondenqui Yaounde Central Prison for trial. The Yaounde Central Prison is currently overcrowded with inmates from all over the ten regions of Cameroon.
The Kondengui prison has outnumbered its capacity and it is full of inmates from Ambazonia (Southern British Cameroon) who, if affected with COVID 19, may stand little chance of surviving.
On several occasions the prisoners have staged protests about both the prison conditions and the war in the Anglophone regions. Recently, the protest soon escalated into a riot, with over 600 Ambazonian and Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) inmates taking over the prison yard, forcing the guards to pull out. The rioters also made a failed attempt to breach the special quarters.
The riot was live-streamed on Facebook by several inmates. In some videos, separatist inmates could be heard singing the Ambazonian national anthem. In one video, a political prisoner from the CRM stated that "We no longer want to eat maize porridge".
Through the poor conditions in which inmates are forced to live some of them die: from diseases such as malaria, lower respiratory infections, and diahorrea. This situation has never been redressed by the Cameroonian.
The coronavirus, so feared by the world has not as yet had any cases reported in this prison but a lot of worries are arising from loved ones and family members about what could happen if one of the inmate comes in contact with the disease, especially given the manner in which they are concentrated in jails.
One of the Prisons located in the Ambazonian Chief town of Buea is very similar. It has an overcrowded population. On July 24 2019, around 100 inmates at Buea Central Prison, acting in solidarity with their fellow detainees at Kondengui, staged a protest of their own. There, as in Kondengui, security forces used live ammunition while quelling the riots.
Following the Kondengui riot, Amnesty International called on Cameroon to improve the prison conditions in Kondengui, and to allow an independent investigation of the crackdown on the riots. Human Rights Watch was later able to document that many of the detainees had been tortured. Many were brought to court and charged for rebellion, and in some cases their lawyers were not allowed to enter the courtroom.
Recently, , in an attempt to decongest the prison, the president of the Republic of Cameroon, making his first appearance to the public after his long disappearance, granted amnesty to some prisoners including those who have embezzled state funds and some other inmates charged with terrorism.
Critics say this is not a brilliant step by the president: his intention should be on decongesting the prison and reducing the spread of the corona virus, but this does not appear to be his motivation as the majority of the prisoners who remain in Prison and are not granted amnesty are from the north west and south west region of the country (Ambazonia), having been arrested as part of the ongoing war in Ambazonia.
These individuals are highly at risk from COVID19. They cannot observe social distancing and the government has taken no measures to keep them safe.
Many people have speculated that if strict measures are not taken to safeguard the prisoners against the Corona Virus many will die if they are affected.
This report has been written by a RAPAR member in the UK who is currently destitute. Most recently, their case has been even further delayed.