Tsiafahy, Monday 30 May 2022.
My name is Paul Rafanoharana Maillot and I am 59 years old. On 4 August 2021, we were sent to Tsiafahy prison in Madagascar as political prisoners. This prison is reputed to be one of the worst in the world. Having spent over ten months unjustly and arbitrarily imprisoned here, along with my companions in misfortune, I can say that this reputation is justified.
I was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour on 17 December of last year after an irregular arrest, a hurried investigation and a grotesque trial that defied all the rules of law. Although I should have re-joined the regular prisoners by now, I am still in solitary confinement. The solitary confinement unit is supposed to serve as a short-term punishment for disciplinary infractions, and is seen as “the prison within the prison”.
From between my four walls, I can say that the prison is truly “fonja”, a Madagascan word that means “house of heaviness”.
Everything is heavy here, like the concrete walls that imprison us and exacerbate the summer heat and winter cold to almost unbearable levels.
Everything is heavy here, like the stifling atmosphere generated by 1000 prisoners in four wings built for 500, or 200 prisoners in a space built for 50.
Everything is heavy here, like the foul smells that emanate from the sewers, or the human waste in wings that have no running water and only two toilets and three showers each.
Everything is heavy here, like the staggering number of remand prisoners (almost a third of all prisoners), or the shocking number of prisoners serving a life sentence, which is almost half of them.
Everything is heavy here, like the metabolisms of the prisoners who only get one meal a day: a meagre plate of lentils, accompanied on alternating days by corn, cassava, or rice.
Everything is heavy here, like the horrifying cries of a prisoner dying through lack of medical treatment that ring out in the silence of the night about once per month.