South Sudan: Mary Sezerina, 'I Am Condemned to Death, but They Didn't Say When'

Juba — More than 100 prisoners are languishing on death row in South Sudan's Juba Central Prison, one of three facilities where people sentenced for murder await their fate at the gallows.

As the new nation struggles to build a police force and judiciary following decades of civil war, rights groups are appealing for it to abolish the death penalty.

Mother-of-five Mary Sezerina, 45, admits her crime. But, like many others, she says she was not allowed to defend herself after she killed a relative seven years ago. She told IRIN her story:

"I am here because there is a problem: I killed a person, and that's why I'm here.

"The police brought me to the police station for two days, and then they brought me here.

"I killed my sister-in-law because she was coming to my house stealing things and running away. When she came back one day and stole, I took an axe and killed her.

"There was not any lawyer to defend me. Then my husband died, so I didn't have the money to repair what I did, so I'm in here. (Customary South Sudan law allows perpetrators to give cows to the victim's family in lieu of a jail sentence.)

"I am condemned to death, but they didn't say when. They never said when.

"It has been five years that I have had this chain [around my feet]. Life in the prison is like entering in a pit of hell - you stay there and nobody takes care of you.

"I appealed two years ago, but none of my relatives are able to follow [up with legal counsel] so I stay here. I have five children, but they are very poor and can't make any appeal. Now when they come and visit, they just cry and cry, and I cry too ... The youngest one is only eight.

"That time that I killed was the devil's intention, and it was stronger than me. Now that I am in prison, my heart is free and I have no bad feelings about my relatives.

"There was a referendum, there was an election and there was independence. Now there is a different president from Omar al-Bashir, but nothing has changed here in the prison. Probably outside, all of them were happy because of the new country, but in here, we were not happy - they changed the government but there was no change here."

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