Maputo — The Mozambican Ministry of Justice has condemned the excessive use of force employed by the police to quell a prison riot in the northern city of Nampula.
Inmates at the Nampula provincial prison rioted on Sunday morning, in protest against poor food and hygiene. They demanded a more varied diet (currently their meals are just maize porridge and beans) and that they be allowed out of their cells into the open air for longer than the current one hour a day.
According to the prison authorities, the prisoners demanded that they all be allowed into the prison yard for fresh air at the same time. The prison management rejected this on the grounds that it would endanger prison security.
During the riot the 400 prisoners in the jail destroyed electrical equipment, and even managed to smash walls and barred windows. A source contacted by the Beira daily paper "Diario de Mocambique" said "There's practically no prison left here, because the inmates have wrecked everything".
The prison guards called on the riot police for assistance, and shots were fired, causing considerable nervousness among Nampula residents, since three days earlier the city had been the scene of a shoot-out between the police and demobilised fighters of the former rebel movement Renamo.
The Ministry of Justice believed the use of firearms had been reckless. In a Monday statement, the Ministry said that the prison guards "acted in an excessive manner to restore order, without observing the rule of minimum use of force".
The Ministry repudiated this behaviour since "it put at risk the physical integrity of the prisoners".
The underlying cause of the riot was overcrowding. The 400 inmates were crammed into five cells.
Immediately after the riot, measures were taken to reduce the overcrowding by transferring about half the inmates to the Nampula Industrial Penitentiary.