Maputo — Mozambican Justice Minister Benvinda Levi on Thursday announced that the government is working towards the resumption of employment contracts for inmates by 2011, to prevent idleness among prisoners. These contracts were suspended just over two years ago.
Levi was speaking to reporters shortly after her visit to the Maximum Security Prison, commonly known as "BO", in the outlying suburb of Machava, in the southern province of Maputo. The prison currently holds just over 700 inmates.
"I call on all of you to stay away from crime while in your workplaces. We must ensure that those of you who are going to work honour your commitments", warned the Minister.
In a written message that the inmates presented to the Minister, they claimed that the suspension of their employment contracts forced them into idleness and made them vulnerable to criminal acts, which explained the outbreak of fights earlier this year. The Minister visited "BO" to assess the degree of compliance with the recommendations she made last April during her visit to the prison, following complaints brought to the public by the media and Mozambique's Human Rights League (LDH) of cases of ill-treatment and torture perpetrated by some prison guards, which led to the sacking of the prison management.
In a message read by Andre Timane, on behalf of the inmates, he pleaded several times for an opportunity to work.
Complaints were aired about inmates jailed for more than five years without trial, conditional bail, the disappearance of files, a lack of water and medicines, and overcrowding.
The inmates also asked for an opportunity to continue their studies. The existing school only lectures up to secondary level, and inmates called for an opportunity to complete higher education by distance learning.
Replying to these concerns, the Minister explained that they do not fall under her jurisdiction. However, she pledged to discuss these issues with the relevant authorities.
On Friday, the minister is expected to visit other prisons in Machava and in the capital Maputo to assess the conditions under which prisoners live, and to seek ways to ensure that their rights are respected.