July 18, 2019

Inside Mageragere Prison Explosions, Riot And Gunshots: Eyewitness Accounts

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An inmate listens at an event commemorating the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi

Some inmates from Mageragere prison located in Kavumu cell, Mageragere sector, Nyarugenge district here in Kigali have yet to be accounted for following an incident that erupted at around 2am on Monday July 8 to Tuesday, according to information obtained by The Chronicles’ investigative desk.

In the early hours of Tuesday July 9, news began filtering through social media that heavy gunfire was coming from the direction of the prison. By daybreak, the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS) was busy responding to these news reports.

CIP Hillary Sengabo, the RCS spokesperson, denied there had been riots in the prison, which houses some high profile inmates who were transferred from the closed ‘1930’ prison which was located in the heart of Kigali.

He said prison guards had been responding to misbehavior by 28 inmates who had been mobilizing others to boycott physical activities conducted inside the facility. RCS has since declined to make any more comments on the issue.

Last Friday July 12, our reporter joined a family member of an inmate as Friday is the official visiting day. The Chronicles managed to speak separately to three inmates including a woman. The inmates interviewed stay in different sections of the large facility, but give similar narration of what transpired.

Here is how one narrated:

“It was late and we were all sleeping. There was a loud explosion in another wing. It sounded like a grenade. There was shouting and running. A group of about 50 inmates managed to get into the exterior of the rooms into the compound. I was not among them but we saw what was going on.”

“They were armed with different weapons like metal rods and anything they could get hold of. At the same time, guards were shooting in the air to disperse the inmates so that they do not get closer to them. This group was trying to reach the guards. The guards may have realized they were going to lose control so they started shooting directly at the crowd. The gunfire lasted for some time as the group ran in different directions.”

“Everything happened very quickly and there was chaos. The guards managed to restore order. In the morning on Tuesday, guards came to different rooms ordering inmates out. They also came to our room. We were taken into the courtyard. We were about 150. There were other security officials including soldiers, police and others in civilian clothing. Senior officers with high ranks were overseeing the operation.”

“They started beating us seriously. They kicked us. They were using buttons and gun-butts to hit us. We were running in different directions trying to escape the beatings. I personally sustained this wound [showing our journalist] when I fell on a log in the compound. After the beatings, many people were injured. Then prison medics came and were giving us medicine and dressing those with wounds.”

“As they were beating us, they were shouting that they will teach us a lesson so that we never attempt to disobey orders in the prison. They were saying we want to break out to go join rebels.”

What caused the explosion and the rioting that ensued?

“Up to now, I personally don’t know what caused the explosion. But it is likely a group of rowdy inmates were trying to cause chaos and then take advantage to attack prison guards. Such cases happen very often. There are inmates known in the prison for refusing to do any work. They usually operate as gangs together. So when they refused, of course the guards responded with brute force to quell the rebellion”.

“What happened that night was a response to days of incidents where the gangs felt they were being abused by the guards. Some of these gangs deal in drugs, engage in homosexuality and conduct illegal markets in the prison. The prison usually confiscates such items and severely punishes culprits by beatings or locking them in solitary confinement for days. So the rioting was meant to be an opportunity to attack guards. Usually when such incidents happen, guards sustain injuries. That is satisfying to the gangs.”

Are there any missing prisoners?

“In my room up to today (Friday last week), four people have not returned. I don’t know if they are in the infirmary (sickbay) still recovering from the riot incident on Monday night. I do not know personally. We cannot ask anyone. We don’t know if they were killed or are still alive. We don’t know.”

Mageragere prison located in Kavumu cell, Mageragere sector, Nyarugenge district here in Kigali

It was 4pm and the guards began asking visitors to leave as their time was up. A woman who had come to visit her husband told us she was called by phone to come visit her sick husband. “I got here and they told me I come back next Friday as he had been taken to hospital.”

This prison has 7,000 male and female inmates, but has capacity to keep 9,500 inmates.

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