- Human rights groups now report "arbitrary arrest and detention of over 40 people since the beginning of 2006 for alleged connections with armed opposition groups or opposition politicians" in the Central African Republic. The detained opponents of President François Bozizé were said to be exposed to a "cruel and inhumane treatment."
Amnesty International today presented a new report on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic, where it "condemned" the "disturbing patterns of arbitrary arrests, long-term detention without charge or trial as well as appalling prison conditions."
The report, 'Central African Republic: Government tramples on the basic rights of detainees', charts the arbitrary arrest and detention of over 40 people since the beginning of 2006 for alleged connections with armed opposition groups or opposition politicians.
"In some cases people have seemingly been targeted for no other reason than sharing the same ethnicity as a leader of an armed opposition group. All have been held without charge in appalling prison conditions for months on end, with no access to lawyers. Those that have eventually faced charges have in most cases been acquitted by the courts," the report said.
Amnesty researcher Godfrey Byaruhanga added that "this signifies a menacing new approach to the issue of internal security, one that flouts the most fundamental standards of national law and international human rights law."
In one incident, 14 detainees declared innocent by the court of undermining internal security were forcibly transferred by the presidential guard - which is directly responsible to President Bozizé - from the capital, Bangui, to a prison that was initially kept secret by the authorities. They were held for 13 days in Bossembélé prison until pressure from lawyers and human rights groups secured their release.
Although more than 20 detainees have been released after being acquitted, more than 20 others, including Claude Yabanda - former president of a legally recognised political party the Patriotic Front for Progress - remain in custody, without knowing if or when they will be brought to trial.
The report also outlines the "shocking condition of prisons" where these and other prisoners are held. Prisoners were said to be "denied food and access to basic medical care, exposing them to the risk of life-threatening diseases. They are also subjected to highly unsanitary and degrading conditions including overcrowded cells with overflowing toilets and no light," the Amnesty report says.
"The prison conditions witnessed during our recent visit to the Central African Republic are among the worst ever witnessed by members of the Amnesty International delegation. The government of the Central African Republic must act without delay to address these totally unacceptable conditions and fulfil their obligations to all detainees under international human rights law," Mr Byaruhanga said.
It is thought that the current wave of arrests was sparked by the arrest in February 2006 of a former army lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Larmassoun, reportedly a leader of an armed opposition group known as the Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy. The arrests are indicative of the general unease that has pervaded the country since President Bozizé won the presidential elections in May 2005.
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