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Prosecutors blamed for arbitrary detention at police stations

Author: Obaj Okuj | Published: Friday, May 31, 2024

Suspects in police detention facility in Juba. Photos | Obaj Okuj | 28th May, 2024.

Directors from several police stations in Juba have accused prosecutors of being behind the prolonged detention of suspects without trial, as an assessment visit to the stations found detainees in crowded and squalid conditions.

The security officials raised the concerns during an inspection visit to the police stations by the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Committee of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, on Monday.

The inspection was aimed to assess the detention facilities and the living conditions of detainees.

During the tour, the lawmakers observed overcrowding in the facilities, where majority of suspects have been charged with minor criminal cases such as theft, family and social disputes.

At the UNMISS-built police station in New Site, the committee found 21 suspects, mostly juveniles charged with minor offenses.

The station director informed the Human Rights Committee that some of the detainees had spent two to three weeks awaiting trial due to delays in prosecution and lack of mobility to transport them for court trail.

Similarly, at Munuki Police Station, the local director reported 51 suspects including juveniles aged 15 to 17 who were accused of various crimes.

Brigadier General Samuel Wal said the station is overcrowded due to small space and suspects waiting over two weeks for trial due to due similar challenges.

According to Wal, the inadequate facilities do not meet humanitarian standards and lack of basic services.

He attributed the backlog of cases to prolonged detention, postponement and profit-driven motives of prosecutors, lawyers and the court.

Wal shed the light on the systemic challenges facing the police custodies and detainees.

“There is a delay in the cases because there are no court cases. You find that the defendant lawyers are the cause of the delays especially when they have interests,” he said.

“A suspect can have more than one lawyer who takes the case file, so we find difficulties in taking the suspect to prison. That is why suspects sometimes end up staying in detention for one to two weeks, all because of the lawyers.”

South Sudan laws provide that all detainees – whether arrested by the police or the security services – are accorded basic rights.

The constitution provides that the person should be taken before a court within 24 hours of arrest.

On his part, William Othown, the Chairperson of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Committee, said the body will compile a report of assessment and present to the parliament for deliberation.

“Generally in those custodies, things are not going well even the way they are kept,” Othown said.

“You can get more than 60 or 50 in one room, some do not sit because the number is very huge, you get 20 can stand and thirty can sit. It is really a very bad situation and it needs to be addressed by the authorities concerned.”

Prison authorities have also said delayed trials caused by insufficient judges has resulted in overcrowding at various prisons across the country.

In March 2023, the Director of National Prison Services said the main facility receives 40 suspected gangs, mostly young people on daily basis.


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