Prisons were old and overcrowded, and conditions were harsh. Food, sanitation, and ventilation were poor, although basic medical care was provided. Prisons had adequate lighting and access to potable water, but there were no air conditioners in prisons or jails, and temperatures often exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Onsite nurses provided medical care, and prisoners needing emergency medical care were transported to hospitals. NGOs, family members, and private citizens occasionally made contributions to augment prisoners’ poor food rations.
At least eight prisoners died during the year due to poor hygiene or malnourishment.
For example, two days after their June arrival in Bitam detention center, three irregular immigrants died due to dehydration. The cause of the dehydration was unclear. After an investigation was conducted, the government announced that their deaths resulted from cholera. There were other reports suggesting that the deaths resulted from insufficient food and water. Three high-level gendarmerie officials were suspended in connection with the incident.
Prison authorities did not keep records, and it was unknown how many prisoners were in the country’s nine prisons, which held an estimated 2,750 inmates and detainees in 2006. Libreville’s central prison held an estimated 1,500 prisoners, although the prison was built to hold 300. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners, and juveniles were held with adults. There were reports that adult prisoners sexually abused juvenile prisoners.
Conditions in jails and detention centers were harsh and mirrored those in prisons. Overcrowding was pervasive.
Prisoners and detainees were allowed to worship without hindrance, and Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim services were regularly held in the prisons. Family visits were permitted in both prisons and jails.
Prisoners and detainees could submit written complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. However, no such complaints were submitted during the year.
During the year the Ministry of Justice took control of prisons from the Ministry of Interior. In November 2010 the minister of justice visited Libreville’s central prison and characterized conditions there as harsh.
The government encouraged independent monitoring of prison conditions by human rights organizations and NGOs. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the NGO Cri de Femmes visited prisons during the year. They reported noticeable efforts by the government to improve prison conditions despite budget constraints. For example, medical supplies and more nutritious food rations were increased in Libreville’s central prison, and floor mats were supplied after the first lady noted that inmates often slept on the ground. The government also prohibited the common practice by prison guards of cutting the hair of female inmates, a cultural taboo.