Families of inmates previously held in Gasabo Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) facility in Kigali are yet to be informed of the whereabouts of their relatives who were relocated to different prisons following recent riots.
Two days after a fire ravaged through a large section of Gasabo Prison in Kimironko on the March 31, riots rocked one of the country’s largest correctional facilities as inmates protested dire conditions that followed the blaze.
A week after the fire, angry inmates pelted administration offices of the prison and nearby dwellings, forcing police to close off the main road and use tear gas to quell the riots inside the prison.
The inmates said that following the fire, which destroyed their shelter and basic belongings such as blankets, mattresses and clothes, they have been living in dire conditions, despite the RCS reporting that it had delivered relief items to replace the destroyed ones.
A week ago, hundreds of inmates onboard heavily guarded trucks were relocated to different facilities across the country. However, relatives who came to visit their kin were told to return later to confirm if their relatives were still in Gasabo Prison.
“We came here on a Friday only to find the relocation process going on. We could not confirm if our people were still here or transferred but prison authorities told us to come back on Sunday. When we returned, we were told that there is an administrative process that is still going on,” said Kankindi Mukamusoni, wife of a relocated inmate.
Last Friday, dozens of relatives of inmates watched helplessly as trucks left the facility, headed to different parts of the country.
A source told Rwanda Today that some three trucks, each with more than 150 inmates left the facility, enroute to Mageragere Prison and other facilities across the country.
RCS said a minimal number, mainly those suspected of instigating the riots and those in sections affected by the fire were moved. But according to RCS spokesperson CIP Hillary Sengabo, following the fire and riots, the process to move the majority of the inmates has started.
However, he denies that families of relocated inmates were denied information about the whereabouts of their relatives.
“The prison administration keeps a list of inmates who were moved and where they were moved to. I encourage families to get the information from the administration. We can’t withhold such information,” Mr Sengabo told Rwanda Today.
He added that the RCS had identified individuals who instigated the riots and they will be charged with vandalism and given additional punishments.
The riots, which caught everyone off guard, caused damage within the facility itself and the neighbouring environs.
“We are suffering, we need help,” the inmates shouted through the windows as they hurled stones and firewood through windows, forcing bystanders to scamper.
The RCS spokesperson said that at least 39 “undisciplined inmates” incited the riots, resulting in guards using force to restore peace in the facility.
“We will deal with them accordingly. Most of them were not even affected by the fire but they used it as an opportunity to incite others,” said Mr Sengabo.
If found guilty, they will get additional sentences or asked to repair the damaged property among other things.
He said that efforts have been directed to providing inmates with basic needs and repairs are being carried out on the prison. Power has also been restored to the facility.
Following the fire, the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs said it had distributed basic items such as utensils and beddings to the affected inmates as works to erect temporary tents were ongoing.
Over 3,000 inmates were affected by the fire. The prison accommodates over 5,000 inmates, mainly genocide suspects serving long sentences.
Mr Sengabo said inmates in the affected section have been moved to the newly-opened Mageragere Correctional facility and other prisons across the country, which are less congested.