Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was a report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.
In late September a recently released detainee died allegedly due to torture (see section 1.c.).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
Media reports alleged a 30-year-old prison detainee died on September 30, days after having been released from Mutsamudu’s Koki Prison, due to torture he allegedly endured, and harsh conditions. Family members reported they would not make an official complaint due to fear of reprisals.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor. The national prison in Moroni is the largest of three prisons in the country. The other two are in Anjouan and Moheli. Military detainees were held in military facilities. National or individual island authorities used various detention facilities as deemed appropriate, and detainees could be transferred from either Anjouan or Moheli to the national prison in Moroni, depending upon the nature of their offenses.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of December the Moroni prison held 135 inmates, but according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) standards, the capacity was 60 inmates. Koki Prison on Anjouan held 90 inmates. Its capacity is not known but all prisoners are kept in only one of the two prison buildings, consisting of three rooms each 215 square feet and a single toilet, and the second building is unused.
The law on child protection provides for juveniles ages 15 to 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Juveniles and adult prisoners were held together. As of December there were three juvenile male inmates in the Moroni prison held with adults. That prison also held two adult female prisoners in a separate cellblock. The Anjouan prison held three adult female prisoners in a separate area and no minors. Detainees and prisoners normally received a single meal per day consisting of 1.8 ounces of rice and one egg (Moroni) or red beans when available (Anjouan). Those who did not receive additional food from family members suffered. Other common problems included inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation and lighting, and medical facilities. The prison in Moroni has a nurse on staff and a visiting doctor; prisoners in Koki said they were sometimes allowed to leave the prison if they needed medical care.
There were multiple reports that the writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui (known as SAST), arrested in August for his role in an alleged coup plot, was being held in a prison cell so small he could neither lie down nor stand straight, and that he was being denied medical treatment, visitations, and clean water and sanitation. As of December, however, he was with the general population in Moroni and appeared to be in reasonably good health. Some media reports suggested that four other less well known detainees arrested for the same incident were suffering the same conditions.
Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints without censorship, but investigations or follow-up actions almost never occurred.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the ICRC to monitor prisons. Authorities required that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) request a visit permit from the prosecutor general.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these provisions, although there were some arbitrary arrests during the year.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The National Development Army and the Federal Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The National Development Army includes both the Gendarmerie and the Comorian Defense Force and reports to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees immigration and customs, reports to the minister of interior, information, and decentralization. The Federal Police report to the minister of interior. The Gendarmerie’s intervention platoon also may act under the authority of the interior minister. When the Gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice.
Each of the three islands had a local police force under the authority of its own minister of interior, or commissaire of the interior, but these positions were abolished under the new constitution approved in a July 30 referendum, although the governorates continued to resist complying with this change.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, police used excessive force, and impunity was a problem. The ability of the army to investigate abuses by its personnel was uncertain.
On January 20, according to media reports, during routine patrols near Moroni, Grande Comore, the Gendarmerie intervention platoon detained 29 individuals who were not carrying identification and brought them to the military camp at Mde, where they were allegedly tortured and beaten. Eventually they were released, and when photos of injuries surfaced on Facebook, the commander of the Gendarmerie’s forces on Grande Comore reported an investigation was under way and that wrongdoers would be punished. On January 28, President Azali also insisted there should be an investigation. The government reported, however, that the investigation revealed no evidence of torture and provided no further information.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires judicial arrest warrants as well as prosecutorial approval to detain persons longer than 24 hours without charge. The law provides for the prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and for detainees to be informed promptly of the charges against them. A magistrate informs detainees of their rights, including the right to legal representation. These rights were inconsistently respected. The bail system prohibits those for whom bail is posted from leaving the country. Some detainees did not have prompt access to attorneys or their families. According to press reporting, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, under arrest for charges relating to an economic citizenship passport program, was denied the right to confidential counsel with his lawyer.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest. For example, there were multiple press reports of suspects’ wives being held for one or two days in the hopes that this would convince their husband to turn himself in.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. By law, pretrial detainees may be held for no more than four months, although many were held longer. A magistrate or prosecutor may extend this period. Detainees routinely awaited trial for extended periods for reasons including administrative delay, case backlog, and time-consuming collection of evidence. Some extensions continued for several years. Defense attorneys occasionally protested such judicial inefficiencies.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of the detention, and the law provides for monetary damages if a court finds a detention improper. During the year former president Sambi challenged the basis for his detention under house arrest, although as of late October, he still awaited a ruling. Meanwhile, Sambi was under provisional detention, pending an eventual trial.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Judicial inconsistency, unpredictability, and corruption were problems.
The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to a timely trial, but lengthy delays were common. The legal system incorporates French legal codes and sharia (Islamic law). Trials are open to the public, and defendants are presumed innocent. Trials are by jury in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and indigent defendants have the right to counsel provided at public expense, although the latter right was rarely observed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Although the law provides for the assistance at no charge of an interpreter for any defendant unable to understand or speak the language used in court, none was provided. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is an appellate process.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Opposition and some national and international media outlets used the term “political prisoner” in reference to writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, also known as “Sast,” and four others arrested in August for involvement in an alleged planned coup d’etat. Others arrested in the case included deputy army chief of staff Colonel Ibrahim Salim. According to media, they were charged with conspiracy, attack on state security, conspiracy in an attempted coup d’etat, unlawful weapons possession and complicity, and nonreporting of an attempted crime. Police allegedly recovered weapons and a large amount of cash, but there were no reports any of the individuals involved had committed any acts of violence. On December 17, four individuals, including Tourqui, Ibrahim Salim, and former Vice President Djaffar Said Ahmed Hassane, who has taken refuge in Tanzania, were sentenced to life with hard labor for allegedly plotting against the state.
Civil aviation official Ismael Ahmed Kassim and Hamada Almoutawakil were detained since February for their alleged involvement in placing nails on the Moheli runway prior to the planned landing of President Azali’s plane. Kassim became aware of the nails and alerted the incoming pilot not to land. After authorities detained as many as 45 persons for the incident and allegedly abused and tortured them (per media reports), only Kassim and Almoutawakil remained in prison. On December 13, they were sentenced to prison terms of eight years and five years, respectively.
Civil society, government officials, and political parties on Anjouan reported cases of political prisoners, primarily from opposition political parties based on Anjouan. These officials estimated the number of political prisoners ranged from 11 to 200 detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through an independent, but corrupt court system. By law individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Court orders were inconsistently enforced.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.