Prisoners proudly exercise their right to vote

Jul 7, 2012

imageA prisoner dips his finger in indelible ink after voting inside Becora Prison. Photo Christine Kearney/UNDP TL

Guilhermino dos Santos Belo, 49, an inmate of Dili’s Becora Prison, can’t understand why Timorese citizens who are eligible to vote would not want to.

“This is an historic day. Today, all citizens can make a contribution to this country, through their vote,” said Guilhermino as he stood outside the Becora Prison library, while his fellow prisoners filed inside to cast their votes in Timor-Leste’s Parliamentary elections.

Guilhermino was one of more than 250 prisoners who voted in the elections today. More than 220 prisoners cast their ballots from inside Becora Prison in Dili, along with thirty prison guards. A further 36 female prisoners voted in Gleno Prison, an hour outside Dili.

“We feel very happy because we too have the right to vote. “If we say we want to reduce corruption in this country or put an end to injustice, how can these things be realised if we don’t vote? We have to tell those at the top about our hopes for this country,” Guilhermino said.

A mobile team from the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Support (STAE) set up the polling booth in the Becora Prison library. More than 14 international and local observers, journalists and representatives of Timor-Leste’s National Electoral Commission (CNE) monitored the voting in Becora Prison.

Director of the Ministry of Justice’s National Directorate for Prisons and Social Reintegration (DNSPRS), Helder Cosme said voting in Timor-Leste’s two prisons went off without a hitch, thanks to good coordination between the prisons’ service and STAE.

“The prisons’ service is very supportive of the fact that the prisoners are able to exercise their right to vote. As a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Timor-Leste ensures that the right of prisoners to vote is respected, as set out in that convention,” Mr Cosme said.  

Over the past four years, UNDP’s Justice System Programme has provided both infrastructure and technical support to Timor-Leste’s two prisons, funding Becora Prison’s internal and external fences, a training centre, a new mains electrical distribution board and additional perimeter lighting. In Gleno Prison, UNDP has helped provide clean water for prisoners by funding a water pump.

In addition, UNDP supports social reintegration initiatives for inmates, such as a partnership with Guido Valadares National Hospital, established earlier this year to provide psychiatric care to any inmate who needs it.