In the remote north-west part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 200 prisoners have been reported to have escaped from a jail. The break-out happened on Tuesday as a hearing was taking place in their prison in Gemena. The aim of the hearing was to try to reduce the backlog of defendants awaiting trial. According to Lawyers present, the inmates began throwing stones as the court sat through the second of 60 cases scheduled that day. Incidents of such are frequent in Congolese prisons where conditions are harsh.
It seems the Congolese justice system is barely functioning after decades of neglect and successive wars, with many courthouses in ruins and unavailability of even the basic of equipments. In Court, prosecutor Felicien Kibeka said the prisoners became unruly in the overcrowded room where only two policemen were present to maintain order. According to him, he barely had time to jump into a car and save his life before the prisoners broke through the prison gates. Up until going to press, only a handful of the 169 escapees have been recaptured.
Apparently, security forces in the Equateur province are dealing with the aftermath of a rebellion in the area earlier this year and are unlikely to be on the hunt for the others. According to Felicien Kibeka, he is the only prosecutor covering the town of Gemena and the surrounding villages in Equateur province. He also said that the magistrates appointed to help him have never arrived and as a result the backlog of cases in the area keeps increasing. And because of all these anomalies, the prison is overcrowded with inmates in that were in pre-trial detention. The country’s justice minister has called on the international community to help improve conditions he said the country’s prisons are death houses.
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