Responding to news that Malagasy security forces killed 22 inmates escaping from Farafangana prison in the south-east of the country, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southern Africa said:
"'This is an appalling attack on the right to life, which shows that the Malagasy government continues to neglect detainees' lives. We have warned the authorities time and again that the squalid detention conditions in Madagascar, compounded by overcrowding and a lack of resources, would lead to tragedy. This should be a wake-up call for the government to urgently and comprehensively tackle its prison crisis.
"The authorities must immediately initiate an independent investigation into the deaths of these detainees and bring to justice those found responsible of using unnecessary lethal force. Security forces must be ordered to immediately stop the use of unlawful lethal force.
"Despite promises made by President Andry Rajoelina last year, overcrowding is still rife and pre-trial detention rates remain excessively high in Madagascar's prisons. Conditions have worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19, with detainees no longer receiving visits from family or their lawyers. In addition, they live in fear of falling sick and not having appropriate access to healthcare."
On 23 August, security forces killed 20 prisoners after they had escaped at around 12 pm from the Farafangana prison, in the south-eastern region of Madagascar. Two additional detainees died on 24 August from their injuries, and more remain hospitalized because of severe injuries. In total, 88 detainees escaped. According to media reports, the prisoners split into two groups with one attacking prison guards with stones as the other forced a way out through the toilets.
According to local reports, the detainees escaped to protest their prolonged pre-trial detention, the use of pre-trial detention for minor offences, including 'theft of a toothbrush', squalid conditions of detention characterized by severe overcrowding, and the widespread corruption which pressures them to pay bribes to a variety of actors within the prison system.
Reports also indicated that detainees had got hold of a gun belonging to a prison guard, which has since been found. In addition to the 20 prisoners who were killed on the spot, approximately 20 others were arrested, including eight which were severely injured and sent to hospital, according to media reports.
The state secretary in charge of the Gendarmerie said the deceased had 'died under fire from the security forces, who had come to provide additional support because they [the prisoners] had resisted [re-capture] during the pursuit with the weapon they had stolen, and by throwing stones'.
The director of the regional prison administration, Nadege Patricia Razafindrakala, told RFI that 'some detainees escaped using a pirogue. When we tried to shoot, they disappeared... . The little pirogue sank'. Hours after the events, photos of the deceased's bodies were shared on social media, shocking many users.
Razafindrakala said detainees have not received visits from their family members since the outbreak of COVID-19, which could have been a factor behind the prison break. According to their Facebook page, the Ministry of Justice told the regional director of the prison administration 'to take all necessary measures' to deal with the situation.
Amnesty International researchers, who visited Farafangana prison in 2017 and 2018, witnessed poor infrastructure and inhumane conditions of detention including severe overcrowding. The organization also documented an excessive use of pre-trial detention at the prison in its report 'Punished for Being Poor: unjustified, excessive and prolonged pre-trial detention in Madagascar'. As of May 2020, the prison housed 453 detainees, for an official capacity of only 260 only.