Ioana Rusu writes from West Africa:
I first met Mamadou Alpha Barry during a routine visit to La Surêté, the largest prison facility in Guinea, West Africa. A young man of only 23, he had been placed in pre-trial detention since 2004. His family could not afford a lawyer, so he asked our organization to take his case. Several weeks later, we finally located his file and were shocked to discover that all charges against Mamadou had already been dropped--in November 2004. He should have been set free, but someone neglected to convey this information to the prison. Mamadou Alpha Barry walked out of prison a free man on July 7th, 2008, after over 3 years and 7 months of illegal detention.
Mamadou’s case is shocking, but sadly far from unique. The disorganization and corruption endemic in Guinea’s judicial system have given rise to grave and pervasive human rights abuses. I have spent the past 10 weeks working with Les Mêmes Droits Pour Tous – MDT (Equal Rights for All), the only non-governmental organization in Guinea currently providing free legal assistance to adult detainees.
The work is challenging and often extremely frustrating. Some of our clients have already finished their sentences, but have not yet been set free. Others have been in pre-trial detention for many years. Yet others have confessed to crimes they did not commit after having been severely tortured by the police.
During my ten weeks with the organization, I have attended trials and hearings, met with clients, followed-up with cases of illegal detention, and helped raise awareness about police brutality. For more information about MDT’s work and my experience working in the Guinean judicial system, please email me at Ioana.C.Rusu@gmail.com.