African prisons are particularly exposed to the coronavirus because of prison overcrowding. Some countries are starting to take amnesty measures for detainees to relieve congestion in prisons.
Ethiopia is one of the African countries facing the risk of the spread of the coronavirus which has decided to unclog their overcrowded prisons. The government has announced an amnesty and the upcoming release of more than 4,000 prisoners. Access to prisons for relatives of detained persons, lawyers and chaplains has been prohibited since March 19 for a minimum period of 15 days. The Commissioner General for Prisons has announced the opening of two isolation and treatment centers reserved for infected prisoners.
Across Africa, detainees are among the populations most at risk from the pandemic. They are locked up in overcrowded penitentiaries where they serve their sentence with the risk of being quickly wiped out by the disease.
This is the case in Burkina Faso where thousands of detainees are crammed into collective dormitories and into cells of a few square meters. Barrier gestures are impossible to adopt. The authorities have therefore taken the lead in announcing some measures to avoid a tragedy. Visits to prisoners have been suspended. Only prisoners' lawyers and those who bring them meals can enter prison doors. Hand washing is now a must.
We have asked all remand and correctional facilities to establish isolation spaces for suspect and confirmed cases, so that they can be confined pending treatment.at the BBC
To prevent the spread of the epidemic, South Africa also suspended visits to detainees for a period of 30 days. The Ministry of Justice has ordered large-scale clean-up measures for all South African prisons facing the shortage of disinfectants.
Exceptional measures also in Algeria, where the Ministry of Justice has ordered the suspension of all day parole regimes. The visiting rooms and prison visits are also suspended. Lawyers for detainees can still talk to their client through a separation pane, reports Algeria Eco site. All criminal and correctional court hearings were suspended until March 31. Remote trial procedures have been planned to stop the spread of the coronavirus,
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch recommends that all countries affected by the pandemic make conditional releases of prisoners. An appeal addressed in particular to the Egyptian authorities. Many people languish in prison in Egypt for peacefully exercising their right to demonstrate. “Sanitary conditions in penitentiary establishments in the country are deplorable and conducive to the spread of Covid-19, alarms Human Rights Watch. Organization calls on Cairo authorities to release on bail “to avoid disaster”.
How can we prevent detention centers from becoming platforms for the spread of the virus? This is the challenge faced by many African countries. The Moroccan Prison Observatory (OMP) and the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) call on the prison administration to release prisoners at the end of their sentences, minors awaiting trial, people over 65 years of age and prisoners of conscience, reports the Moroccan press.
Several Tunisian human rights organizations are also demanding a “drastic reduction” the number of people detained to fight the pandemic. They are proposing to release on parole. Some 600 convicts have already been released and more than 1,000 others have benefited from a reduction of sentence on March 20, 2020 on the occasion of the 64th anniversary of Tunisian independence.