PHOTO | VINCENT JANNINK In this file picture taken on August 5, 2010 Liberia's former president Charles Taylor is seen at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam. AFP
By PETER MWAURA
Many of my Sierra Leonean friends are unhappy that people convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity during their country’s 1991-2002 brutal civil war are “living in luxury in foreign jails”. They would rather have them roughing it in Freetown’s notorious Pademba Road jail or, if it came to that, in Kamiti in Kenya.
Kamiti Maximum Security Prison is rated in some websites among the 25 most brutal prisons in the world. That aside, my friends were taken aback by Charles Taylor’s request to serve his 50-year sentence in a Rwanda, rather than a UK jail.
Life in a Rwanda jail is not as comfortable as in a British jail. Does Charles Taylor know something my friends don’t? In a letter dated October 10, 2013, to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the former Liberian president said serving his sentence “in my home continent of Africa, would be substantially more humane.”
But the court did not listen. He is now serving the remainder of his jail sentence – some 43 years — in an English jail. There are eight others who have been found guilty by the SCSL and are serving their sentences in Rwanda. They would gladly switch places with Charles Taylor.
Some of them have complained about conditions at Mpanga prison in Kigali and want to be transferred to European jails. The SCSL has agreements with Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Rwanda for prisoners to serve their sentences in those countries. Sierra Leone does not have the capacity to hold the convicts.
COSIEST JAILS IN EUROPE
Though Taylor did not want to be incarcerated in the UK, the country has some of the cosiest jails in Europe. It is common for a prisoner in an English jail to have satellite television, a water basin and toilet in his cell, as well as access to libraries and computers. Prisoners also receive wages and cash bonuses for good behaviour.
Conditions in a UK prison, however, are unlikely to be as good as those Charles Taylor experienced in Scheveningen jail in The Hague, where he was detained for seven years after his arrest in March 2006. He had a personal computer in his cell, his own toilet and washing area, and access to a gym.
He was permitted conjugal rights and it’s reported he fathered a child with his wife during his stay in Scheveningen. He was more than comfortable.
But it’s also reported that he complained “the food which is served is completely Eurocentric and not palatable to the African palate”. He was probably missing goat meat stew in a tomato-based sauce flavoured with hot chilli peppers, a popular Liberian dish.
My Sierra Leonean friends bear a grudge because they believe prisons should not be holiday homes but centres of punishment. If Charles Taylor and company were incarcerated in congested and brutal Kamiti, or King’ongo’ Prison, they would not be so begrudging.