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Madagascar: Series of “Prison Breaks” as Life Imitates Television

Bloggers in Madagascar are troubled over a series of prisons breaks last week-end. On January 4th, 22 inmates escaped from the Tsiafahy prison outside the capital city of Antananarivo. In a manner reminiscent of Andy Dufresnes’ flight from prison in “The Shawshank Redemption”, the prisoners reportedly crept out of a long tunnel dug with bottles and saucepans before one was killed and four others intercepted a few kilometers away from Antananarivo, the capital city. Among those still at large, four are facing the death penalty.

Then, on January 6th, 7 prisoners fled from the Toamasina prison, a coastal city 370 km east of the capital, only to be followed by the escape of 11 detainees in Betroka, 720 km South of Antananarivo. For those of you keeping count, that's 40 inmates at large, from 3 different prisons, within 48 hours.

Malagasy bloggers, using sarcasm, probably as a remedy for fear, did not miss the obvious pop culture reference to the TV hit series, “Prison Break”, also quite popular in Madagascar.

The series of escapes highlights Madagascar's public security problems on the eve of the appointment of a new minister of the interior.

Jentilisa posts a sarcastic cartoon about the escapes, and wonders if they are just a coincidence (mg):

Heverina ho misy ny atidoha nikotrika ny raharaha ary olona ivelan'ny voafonja ny atidoha, satria tsy tokony hanana finday na fitaovan-tserasera hafa ireo voafonja ireo handosirana tao anatin'ny indray alina. Tarataratra ho fitadiavana hanakorontanana ny firenena amin'ny alalan'ny tsy filaminana no tanjona na fanindriana ankolaka ny olona tsy hihetsika satria hanampy isa ireo olona natao hanakorontana fotsiny (A qui profite le crime?). Hisy raharaha ity volana Janoary sy ny tohiny ity izany koa!

One has to suspect that there had to be a mastermind behind this affair, a mastermind from outside, because the inmates could not possibly get all those “tools” in one night. Is this all about trying to disturb the public order or is it to prevent people from making a move because they will be accused of disturbing the public order ( who benefits most from the crime?). It sure will be quite an interesting month of January !

Andry @The Cyber Observer points out that the Tsiafahy prison is where most political prisoners from 2002 are kept (note: in 2002, riots in Madagascar broke out when the presidential elections between Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana led to a political impasse):

Most of the prisoners who are detained there, are dangerous criminals sentenced to death or to long term detentions. It is also the prison of almost all the “political” prisoners who have been convicted to crime and attempt against the security of Madagascar during the crisis of 2002

Arinaina @ Dagotiako also struggles to understand how this can happen and fears for his safety:

People are frightened (as I am) because those prisoners of Tsiafahy are very dangerous ones, only “big” criminals. But how such escape could happen? Didn’t the wardens check the inmates list before closing each room of the prison in the evening?

Andry is not only outraged at the incompetence of the prison wardens, he is even angrier at the lack of information provided by the media**:

There is a real problem of communication, as I stated earlier because starting from 10.00am to 07.00pm, no TVs, no radios reported the event.
It then means that almost everybody knew nothing about the danger till TVM (Madagascar National TV) announced it at 07.00pm.
Why such silence? Is it because of a lack of professionalism from private Malagasy journalists? Is it due to an “imposed” silence from public medias and TVs and radios which follow the political tendency of the Malagasy State?
A good journalist, as far as I know, is a person who always seek for any news, and who straightly reports them to the public. Such duty has to be done regardless of political membership.
I have the feeling that journalists from public medias and medias which follow the governmental trend, knew the event at the same time or before me. I suspect that they all had been obliged to keep the news silent, in order to maintain the public order and to avoid any massive move of panic. If it is really the truth, I consider such decision as completely irresponsible and even criminal. Criminal because Malagasy citizens have also the right to protect themselves against any threat; how can you protect yourself and your loved ones if you do not even know the danger you face?

( **Note: a comment noted that a report on national television was issued about the first escape at 12 PM on Jan 4th.)

Lomelle notes that the political climate of the country and the economic crisis does not need additional drama (fr):

le climat politique de Madagascar est tendu et la prévision annonce une sacrée tempête. Redoutons cela car on n’a pas besoin d’une tempête de plus en cette période de crise que nous passons.

The political climate in Madagascar is tense and pundits predict a major storm ahead. Let's be weary of that because it is the last thing we need in the crisis we are currently in.

gazetyavylavitra points out the Tsiafahy prison was supposed to be the unbreakable Fort Knox of Madagascar and yet (mg):

Raha i Tsiafahy, solon’i Nosilava, lazaina fa maison de force sy isan’ny tena azo antoka indrindra amin’ny fonja, ankoatra ny ao Arivonimamo, izay natao ihany koa hametrahana ireo heverina fa fahavalom-bahoaka sy tena atahorana aza moa vaky efa ho in-telo be izao izao [amin'ny fomba mampihomehy ihany]

So if Tsiafahy (prison) was supposed to be the replacement for Nosilava (an island that was the malagasy version of Alcatraz), the only high-security prison that we could rely on, beside Arivonimamo, the one where we would put all the top public enemies, that prison was broken three times already [ sometimes in a quite comical manner].

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