Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday passed the first reading of a government bill overhauling the Mozambican prison service.
It replaces the current National Prison Service (SNAPRI) with a National Penitentiary Service (SNP) which is intended “to guarantee implementation of court decisions in matters of imprisonment and of alternative penalties, and ensuring the conditions for the rehabilitation and social reinsertion of convicted citizens”.
Introducing the bill, Justice Minister Benvinda Levi said the reform of the prison system was part of the government’s strategic objectives in the justice sector. The reform was aimed, not simply at punishment, but at decent treatment of prisoners, and ensuring that they successful rejoin society at the end of their sentences.
Unlike SNAPRI, the SNP has a key role to play when offenders are sentenced to punishments other than imprisonment (such as fines, community service, and repaying the damage they have caused).
The bill states that the SNP must “implement and coordinate a national system for carrying out the alternative penalties, together with the court authorities who have ordered them”. The government believes that one effective way of reducing overcrowding in the prison is not to jail petty offenders, but to order them to perform tasks useful to society.
The SNP must guarantee respect for the human rights of prisoners, and should “promote the development of economic activities appropriate for generating income to improve living conditions in the prisons”.
The SNP must also ensure that citizens are only sent to prison by a court order, either to serve a sentence or for preventive detention prior to a trial. Those who refuse to carry out community service or other alternative penalties ordered by a court can be arrested and taken immediately to prison.
The SNP must also ensure that prisoners are not detained for longer than their sentences or the legal period of preventive detention.
The bill passed its first reading by 162 votes in favour, cast by deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party and of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), while 35 deputies of the former rebel movement Renamo abstained.
Renamo objected to an article which said that in the event of a state of war, state of siege, or state of emergency, prison guards “may be placed by the Commander-in-Chief (i.e. the President of the Republic) under the orders of the armed forces”. Renamo deputy Fernando Matsoanga suggested the government “is trying to create more police and para-military units”.
Levi replied that there is nothing new about this provision – under Mozambique’s National Defence Policy, at times of emergency all forces in the country are put at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief, and even civilians can be mobilized.
This provision has never been used – even at the height of the apartheid regime’s war against Mozambique, using Renamo as its surrogate army, the government never declared a state of war, siege or emergency.
Renamo also objected to a provision that would allow SNP members to carry firearms, even when off-duty. Levi replied that any SNP member who wanted to take advantage of this provision would have to request authorisation from the relevant authorities. She added that any citizen – including parliamentary deputies – may request authorisation to carry a gun.
The government submitted a second bill on the system of ranks and positions in the SNP, but at the suggestion of the Assembly’s Legal Affairs Commission, the two bills will be merged.
It is almost certain that, in redrafting the bill, the acronym SNP will be dropped – the Legal Affairs Commission pointed out that SNP is also the acronym for the National Teachers’ Union. To avoid any confusion, the National Penitentiary Service could be abbreviated as SENAP.