Burundi: "Some people are sleeping outside in the rain"
D. left Bujumbura at the end of 2015 due to the unrest there. He was arrested a few months later in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and accused of being one of the Burundi rebels based in the DRC. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. He has already spent four years in the Mpimba prison, which was built for 800 inmates but currently holds 4400.
He is still imprisoned. Here, he tells Prison Insider about his living conditions.
There is nowhere near enough food.
The cells and the corridors are full. Some people sleep in the cold and rain on the basketball court in the yard. If you don’t have a mattress or the money to by one, you have to sleep on the floor. A mattress costs 5000 Burundian Francs ($2). It’s made of straw or torn clothes (ibishambara in Kirundi).
The cells are opened at 6:50am. Some inmates go to their place of worship for morning prayers; the major religions in the prison are Catholicism, Protestantism, Adventism and Islam. I’m responsible for coordinating the movements of these groups in the prison. Then I go to morning prayer until 8:30am. Three times a week, I follow this with choir rehearsals until 10am.
Other people go for a walk, exercise on the football field (mahankayiko) or stay in the cells. Anyone can go back to their cell whenever they want.
Activity stops at 12 noon and resumes at 2pm. Almost all the prisoners eat cooked beans and cassava or maize flour. Each inmate is supposed to receive 350g of beans and 350g of flour per day, but in reality it’s more like 200g of beans or flour. There is nowhere near enough food.
More than two thirds of the inmates are awaiting trial
"Some people aren’t allowed to talk or move around the prison"
Visits are allowed three days per week. Life is impossible for the people who don’t receive visits. There are so many visitors that we only have five minutes to talk to our loved ones. The visits end at 4pm, when the prison closes.
A group of inmates is responsible for security within the prison. Sometimes political prisoners are mistreated. More than two thirds of the inmates are awaiting trial; it can take up to five years for a case to come to trial. I was held in detention for three years before I going to court. People who can’t afford to pay a lawyer have to defend themselves. Since 2015, lawyers have not been available through legal aid.
There are two detention systems: one for “the events of 2015”, for the inmates who are considered the most dangerous, and one for everyone else. Not all prisoners are treated the same, particularly when it comes to reductions in sentence length and presidential pardons. Some people aren’t allowed to talk or move around the prison. Others are placed in solitary confinement (tingi tingi).
Medical treatment is not permitted except for very serious illnesses; in some cases, the inmates can’t get treatment until their life is in danger. Some of them die.
There is a small sickbay with 20 beds. Religious groups are responsible for cleaning the sickbay and for washing the patients’ bedding and clothing. We have access to water between 4pm and 9pm, and there is only one tap.
From 6pm to 7:30pm, I go on the internet if I can. Then we have dinner and I finally watch TV, at 8pm. After that, I talk to my parents, my brothers or my family by text or on Facebook until 10pm. Finally, I take a shower and I go to sleep. That is my day.