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Overcrowding in prisons risks becoming a public health catastrophe – AI warns African govts

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AMNESTY International, a global advocacy group, has urged authorities in sub-Saharan Africa to protect prisoners from the risk of COVID-19 by unclogging prisons, warning that overcrowded prisons pose a public health catastrophe.

In a press statement released on Monday, AI also advocated for the release of prisoners of conscience, a review of cases of pre-trial detention, and a guarantee of access to healthcare and sanitation products in all prison facilities.

“As COVID-19 spreads across Sub-Saharan Africa, the severe overcrowding seen in many prisons and detention centres risks becoming a public health catastrophe, especially given the general lack of health care and sanitation,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa.

According to the group, many prisoners across several countries in the sub-Saharan region are serving time for fighting for their rights and releasing such prisoners of conscience would not only be the right thing to do but would also help free up the facilities.

Highlighting several prisoners of conscience in countries such as Benin, Burundi, Cameroon and Chad, AI submitted that the prisoners of conscience should be released unconditionally.

“Amnesty International considers all these people prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned for exercising their human rights. They must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Deprose Muchena.

AI also called on authorities to consider early, temporary or conditional release of older prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions, as well as women and girls who are in detention with dependent children or who are pregnant.

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Buttressing that COVID-19 poses grave health risks in prison, especially because there is a lack of proper sanitation and adequate health care facilities.

“The spread of COVID-19 is a public health concern even in prisons and other detention facilities. Reducing the number of people in detention should be an integral and urgent part of state responses to COVID-19, which must begin by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those who shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first place,” said Samira Daoud.

Currently, Africa has recorded over 23,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 1,000 deaths.

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