- More that 50 prison officers, on strike for one week, have been detained by the Cameroonian army and taken to an unknown location, according to human rights groups. Reports indicate that the striking warders have not been given anything to eat or drink and that several have been tortured.
According to Madeleine Afite, President of the Cameroon Human Rights House in Douala, Cameroonian rights organisations have received concerning reports on the fate of over 50 striking warders of a Yaoundé jail, including around 20 women. Yesterday, the group "has been transported by the military to an unknown destination," Ms Afite said in a statement today.
Last evening, the human rights group's investigators achieved to get notice from what they called "trustworthy sources" about the warders' whereabouts. "The guards are held at the cellar of the Secretariat of State to Defence (SED), which is a location of secret detentions where it is easy that somebody 'disappears'," Ms Afite says, adding she is "fearing the worst."
This morning, the same unnamed source again had been able to contact the detained prison officials. "Since yesterday, the prison guards have received nothing to eat and nothing to drink," the source informed, adding that later today, the detainees were set to be "beaten and tortured."
Warders at the Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaoundé went on strike on 28 December, protesting poor working conditions, overcrowded jails, personal safety concerns and low wages. Guards at the New Bell prison in Douala this week joined the strike in solidarity with their Yaoundé colleagues.
Cameroonian Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni yesterday chaired a crisis meeting to look into the strike, as it is threatening security at national prisons and disrupting court proceedings in Douala and Yaoundé. Mr Inoni in a statement today noted that national legislation and labour ethics bars prison wardens from striking.
The Prime Minister's office - in a statement read out in national radio - further added that the striking warders in an illegal action had "strongly disturbed public services." Mr Inoni announced that "exemplary sanctions will be taken" and that those responsible would be taken to court to face justice. He did however not give details about the warders' detention.
In other developments, the strike yesterday led to chaotic conditions at the Yaoundé maximum security prison, where male prisoners broke into the jail's female section and raped several inmates and tried to escape. As security forces - which are now stationed outside the prison - stormed the building to quell the riot, four prisoners were shot dead and several were wounded.
Employees say that working conditions at the Yaoundé prison are disastrous. The run-down jail houses Cameroon's worst criminals. Originally build for around 800 prisoners, now it houses close to 4,000 inmates. Warders are said to be incapable of living up to their duties and conditions for the inmates are inhumane.
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