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The ruling government of Democratic Republic of Congo(DRM) grants amnesty to 110 prisoners

The Justice Minister signed the order pardoning prisoners who were guilty of insurrection, acts of war and political offences against the ruling government

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FILE - Edem Kodjo, center, a former chairman of the Organization of African Unity, sits with diplomats during the opening of a Congolese political dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, Sept. 1, 2016. Source: VOA
  • On Friday, September 9, Democratic Republic of Congo’s government released 110 prisoners as a demand for opposition party’s condition to continue further dialogues
  • Edem Kodjo, African Union’s facilitator for the political dialogues between the two parties, welcomes this move
  • According to Human Rights Watch, it is not clear whether the 110 prisoners amnestied, will include long-time political prisoners or leaders of political party

KINSHASA(DR Congo), September 9, 2016: The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government on Friday announced the release of another wave of prisoners in response to demands from opposition parties as a precondition to their involvement in a political dialogue in Kinshasa.

Last week, the government responded by releasing eight pro-democracy activists and another 170 prisoners held for various offenses.

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On Friday, the justice minister signed a ministerial order for the release of 110 prisoners found guilty, according to the order, of ‘insurrection, acts of war and political offences’.

The news was welcomed Friday by Edem Kodjo, the African Union appointed facilitator of the DRC’s political dialogue that started this week.

He told media: ” A short while ago I received from the justice minister an order amnestying 110 political prisoners who were already concerned by the amnesty law of 2014. 110 are being released this evening or tomorrow. So we are making progress.”

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Kodjo said he and others had been lobbying for the release of a number of prisoners whose names has been given to him by a group of opposition parties known as the G7.

Human Rights Watch said last week that it had documented at least 20 long-term political prisoners who remained in detention in DRC, including leaders of political parties. It was not clear whether any were among the 110 listed for release.

Samy Badibanga, an opposition politician taking part in the dialogue, welcomed the latest releases as proof that the dialogue was achieving results. Each of these measures was positive, he said, adding that he hoped there would be more such measures in the future.

During a dialogue debate Friday, the ruling coalition, and opposition maintained opposing positions on the order of upcoming elections. The opposition wants presidential elections to be held first, while the ruling coalition wants local elections held first. (VOA)

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How Art is Reforming Prisoners, Giving Them Another Chance In Life

Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner's calendars now.

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Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term. Pixabay

One often thinks of Indian prisons as dingy, cramped cells with their mean and often dehumanised inmates waiting for redemption. So it comes as a surprise when a group of prisoners takes to stage and gets applauded for performing a play written by Rabindranath Tagore or when paintings made by inmates are appreciated by art connoisseurs and get sold at art exhibitions for thousands of rupees.

But isn’t that what prisons are supposed to be about? To reform those who committed mistakes in their lives and give them a second chance. Contrary to popular perception of prisons as violent spaces, two Indian prisons, Delhi’s Tihar Jail and West Bengal’s Berhampore Central Correction Home, are doing just that by encouraging healthy practices of painting, sketching and performing theatre for inmates who are prepared to lead a new life.

Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term.

Suraj Prakash, an art instructor from the College of Art, has been teaching Tihar (Jail 4) inmates every week since June 2017, after several inmates were spotted doing amateur sketching and painting by the jail administration.

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“Theatre is my weapon. It has transformed the lives of these people. They may have committed crimes, but the rehabilitation has been immensely successful.” Pixabay

“To encourage them, Superintendent Rajesh Chauhan contacted instructors to teach them. The group has now snowballed from a handful to around 200, and over 20 have mastered it in less than two years,” Prakash told IANS.

Equipped with an in-house art gallery now, the ‘Tihar School of Art’ has sold close to 60 artworks since its inception, and even garnered Rs 5-6 lakh. According to Prakash, half the money from each sale is deposited into the respective inmate’s account, and the rest goes into funding art activities.

A booth was dedicated to showing works of art by the inmates at the India Art Festival.

Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner’s calendars now.

The second initiative, tagged as theatre therapy, started when theatre director Pradip Bhattacharya ventured into the Berhampore prison for a jail performance in 2006 where he saw gender-segregated cells with low levels of literacy among inmates.

On a proposal by the prison’s Inspector General B.D. Sharma, Bhattacharya started working with the prisoners, many of whom were sentenced for life. What cemented their tie as director and actors was a meal he shared with them, which “changed their body language completely”.

“Theatre is my weapon. It has transformed the lives of these people. They may have committed crimes, but the rehabilitation has been immensely successful,” he told IANS.

While some prisoners were involved in land disputes, some were convicted for murder in a fit of anger. Bhattacharya said that they were not born criminals, but accidental ones, which is why their reform was easier.

A troupe of 26 actors from the Berhampore Repertory Theatre staged a play written by Rabindranath Tagore, “Jakshapuri (Raktakarabi)” on Thursday here, as part of a National School of Drama theatre fest. For Bhattacharya, who said Tagore was immediately relatable to the prisoners, understanding the cultural figure is not a matter of education.

“He is not a high-mounted photograph for them. He is their guru, Gurudev.”

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While some prisoners were involved in land disputes, some were convicted for murder in a fit of anger. Bhattacharya said that they were not born criminals, but accidental ones, which is why their reform was easier.
Pixabay

After staging over 50 shows of three Tagore productions in various locations across India, the troupe does plan on taking up theatre when they are free. “Theatre gives a peace of mind. I am relieved of all tensions when I act. I have found Bhattacharya, who is like my father,” inmate-actor Sapan Mehena told IANS.

Bhattacharya, who also proudly pointed to two prisoners who fell in love during the rehearsals, also said that many are also taking to education. Mehena, for instance, has completed class 10 in jail.

Buddhadev Meta, one of the main characters of the play, said: “When I was sentenced to life, there was a depressing darkness all around, and I thought to myself that my life is over, but when the director encouraged us to do theatre, it was a new platform for living life altogether. I don’t want to lose it now.”

Also Read: Add Traditional Touch To Your Contemporary House

Meta, who also found his partner in a co-prisoner who played the protagonist Nandini, said that he has found his “sansar” (world), and for earning livelihood, Bhattacharya has given him a new avenue. He proudly added that he wants to continue with theatre even after he is free.

Meta also said that he is learning a few words of English, and his Bengali is now “completely clear”, owing to theatre rehearsals. (IANS)