25 February 2014

South Sudan: Government Shuts Down Notorious Military Prisons in Rumbek

Photo: Human Rigths Watch
A home burns in Malakal, South Sudan

Rumbek — Lakes state authorities on Saturday announced the closure of notorious Langcok military prison - effective immediately - following a presidential order.

A senior intelligence officer from the South Sudan army (SPLA) operating in Lakes state confirmed that the Ngatinga prison, also known as Ajakangau, in western Cueibet county, has also been closed, while a third facility - Pulkuc prison - is believed to still be operational.

Detainees have been transferred to the main correctional facility in Rumbek Central county. The South Sudanese government has come been under increasing pressure from the international community to shut down the secretive military prison, which was opened 13 months ago by Lakes state's military caretaker governor, Maj-Gen Matur Chut Dhuol.

Langcok hosted a large number of Lakes state's eight eight counties last since January after president Salva Kiir Mayardit issued a decree removing the state's elected governor, Chol Tong Mayay, and replacing him with Dhuol.

However, the facility had faced criticism for its harsh conditions and treatment of detainees amid claims the majority of prisoners lacked legal representation.

A prison officer in Rumbek Central county has confirmed that arrival of 54 inmates who were detained in Langcok, but said they had no information on what offences they had allegedly committed and what charges they were facing.

"Yes, we received 54 inmates who were isolated in Langcok under [the] custody of [the] military. They were sent to us and we are keeping them inside here despite no file of their cases being forwarded to us; we are keeping them here, but we have no real reason on what crime they are charge for," said the officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Rumbek correctional facility currently hosts about 500 prisoners, most on charges for adultery and theft.

The officer claimed there was not enough food to go around and had been further strained by the arrival of more inmates.

Meanwhile, Rumbek East county commissioner David Marial Gumke claimed the Pulkuc prison had been closed "for [a] long time", but declined to name which month the facility had ceased operations.

Dhuol's rollout of tough new security and political reforms has put him at odds with youth, students and intellectuals in the state, with activists calling on the president to remove the governor.

In a September 2013 letter to the president, leading South Sudanese journalist Manyang Mayom Meen, called for a major overhaul of Lakes state's prison services.

He said correctional institutions needed to focus more on rehabilitation and vocational training of prisoners, so that they could better contribute to society once they are released.

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