Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday passed the second and final reading of a government bill setting up a National Penitentiary Service (SERNAP), which replaces the current prison service, SNAPRI.
SERNAP 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”.
The bill states that SERNAP must not only manage the country’s prisons, but also “implement and coordinate a national system for carrying out the alternative penalties, together with the court authorities who have ordered them”.
SERNAP 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”.
SERNAP 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. It must also ensure that prisoners are not detained for longer than their sentences or the legal period of preventive detention.
The bill passed with the 177 deputies present from the ruling Frelimo Party and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) voting in favour. 33 members of the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, abstained.
Explained the abstention, Renamo deputy Fernando Matsoanga claimed the bill contains “ambiguous aspects which could be used for purposes foreign to the interests of the Mozambican people”.
He was referring 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”.
Such a situation is hypothetical in the extreme. Even during the war of destabilisation, when Renamo was terrorising the Mozambican countryside, at the instructions of its apartheid paymasters, the government never declared a state of war, siege or emergency.
Matsoanga also objected to a provision that would allow SERNAP members to carry firearms, even when off-duty, claiming that this might lead to an increase in crime.