COTE D'IVOIRE - The Bishops: "A presidential pardon to thin out prisons
where 16,000 detainees live in spaces for 4,000 people"

Abidjan (Agenzia Fides) – To offer presidential pardon for those guilty of minor crimes and hire new magistrates to speed up trials. This is the appeal launched by the Catholic Church in Côte d'Ivoire where the situation in prisons is dramatic. In the 34 Ivorian prisons 16,000 prisoners are imprisoned in a total space planned for only 4,000 prisoners.

The conditions of prisoners were brought to the attention of politics and public opinion by His Exc. Mgr. Antoine Koné, Bishop of Odienné and President of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral Care, in his homily for a national day for prisoners, which was celebrated on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, on 8 April, in the church of Sainte Thérèse de Marcory, in Abidjan.

"Dear brothers, dear sisters, the Sepulcher of Christ is open", said Mgr. Koné. "Is this not an invitation to open all the prison-tombs scattered here and there where so many of our brothers and sisters languish who, very often, claim their innocence and whose cry does not seem to be heard by those who could help them to resuscitate?"

Mgr. Koné has asked for pardons for convicted prisoners for some crimes and asked to strengthen the judiciary to speed up the trials of prisoners awaiting trial. Measures that "would give a human face to our places of detention" said the Bishop.

Despite the presidential pardon granted at the end of the year to 4132 ordinary prisoners, Ivorian prisons remain overcrowded, according to the Department for the Pastoral Care of Prisons and Human Rights, of the Ivorian Episcopal Conference.

According to the Bishops' body, 16.254 persons are locked up in Ivorian jails, but they are designed to accommodate 3754 people. The promiscuity and the poor sanitary conditions of the Ivorian prisons are criticized by various human rights organizations.

Mgr. Koné urged the various social sectors to abandon the moral and spiritual prisons of hatred, presumption, pride, indifference and corruption. He then invited politicians to promote peace and national cohesion. "The people of Côte d'Ivoire are waiting for you to build bridges, which would undoubtedly support the social climate and encourage the development of those who question the future", the Bishop concluded.

Mgr. Koné led a delegation of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral Care visiting the military prison and the civil prison of Abidjan.

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