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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Torture continues in Congo's prisons
Military truck passes Kinshasa residents
Kinshasa residents must steer clear of prisons
By Mark Dummett in Kinshasa

Prisoners released by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been describing what has for long been suspected and feared - that torture is commonplace, and murder not unknown, inside Kinshasa's jails.

"I was beaten by sticks, I was flogged almost to death," said Golden Misabiko, just days after his release, "My back was striped like a zebra's with blood."

I don't want to quote names, but I know people were killed. People were severely tortured - I know this because I was. You could smell death

Golden Misabiko
Along with more than 200 other inmates of the central Makala prison, Golden Misabiko was set free, as part of what Kinshasa says is its commitment to human rights and an agreement it signed with the DR Congo's other warring parties in Botswana last month.

Those freed include four Ugandan prisoners of war, now back in Kampala, and many suspects in the on-going Laurent Kabila assassination enquiry.

Urinated blood

Mr Misabiko, who works for human rights organisation ASADHO, describes how he urinated blood for 15 days after his ordeal in the Groupe Lito Moboti (GLM), a now disused detention centre that faces Joseph Kabila's new residence.

"I don't want to quote names, but I know people were killed. People were severely tortured - I know this because I was. You could smell death," he said.

President Joseph Kabila
Kabila says he respects human rights

Inmates had confessions beaten out of them, Mr Misabiko alleges, including those who were clearly innocent of the accusations they faced.

In all the time he spent in prison, he had only one formal interview, and was never charged, let only tried.

The human rights activist was arrested in February, following his revelation of the murder of Anselme Masasu Nindaga in Katanga Province last year.

Founder member

Mr Masasu was one of the four founders of the AFDL movement that swept Laurent Kabila to power, but he was sidelined when they reached Kinshasa, then arrested and later executed.

Many of Golden Misabiko's fellow inmates at Makala prison, where he was moved after the GLM, were former child soldiers recruited by Mr Masasu, then held in connection with Laurent Kabila's assassination.

Ugandan soldier
Four Ugandan POWs are now back in Kampala

There, conditions were better, but still harsh.

Another of the recently released described to BBC News Online how he spent the last four months in solitary confinement - only allowed out of his cell for 10 minutes in the morning for a shower, then later for lunch.

For the rest of the time he was alone, with no radio, and nothing to read.

Left behind

"I just slept," he said, "until the last month when the governor allowed me to have a small Bible."

Still messages to the outside world were slipped past the Zimbabwean soldiers who guard the high security Pavillon 1 which houses all those connected to the Kabila case, including chief suspect Eddy Kapend.

Though many have now been released, others, perhaps as many as 100, remain in prison.

Meanwhile enjoying his freedom, Golden Misabiko thinks that at last the Congolese government might be listening to criticism both at home and abroad about its human rights record, and trying to clean up its act.

But if not, he will be one of the many voices prepared to speak out. "I have done the job God wants me to do - to denounce human rights violations, and to establish a state where human rights are respected."

See also:

25 Aug 01 | Africa
DR Congo maps future
17 Jul 01 | Africa
UN praises Congo advances
04 Jul 01 | Africa
Kabila in peace talks
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