Court blows ‘SOS’ whistle on inhumane treatment in Malawi’s prisons

The Dowa First Grade Magistrate Court has sounded an “SOS” (Save Our Soul) asking  Malawi government to take precautionary measures in addressing the appalling conditions in prisons, such as unnecessary congestion and inadequate food provision currently faced by inmates.

Phiri: Authored the letter

Phiri: Authored the letter

MALAWI. Blantyre. May 27th, 2015.  Food distribution in Chichiri Prison. Prisoners are fed just once a day, due to the small budget that Malawian Government allocates to the penal system. The quality of the food is miserable - six days of Nsima (boiled corn flour with no salt or other ingredients) and boiled beans once a week. As a consequence cases of malnutrition are common.Luca Sola/MSF

Food distribution in Chichiri Prison. Prisoners are fed just once a day, due to the small budget that Malawian Government allocates to the penal system. The quality of the food is miserable – six days of Nsima (boiled corn flour with no salt or other ingredients) and boiled beans once a week. As a consequence cases of malnutrition are common. – Photo by Luca Sola/MSF

A prison officer checks the prisoners in their cell before locking them for the night.  Overcrowding is a critical problem in Malawian jails.  Chichiri Prison was built to house 800 prisoners instead of the 2000 currently detained there.  According to medical statistics this specific cell 5, one of the most overcrowded, have the most case of viral transmissions (Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, Malaria, HIV) as well as the highest percentage of other diseases related to unhygienic conditions (Scabies, skin infections, rash).-- Photo by Luca Sola/MSF

A prison officer checks the prisoners in their cell before locking them for the night. Overcrowding is a critical problem in Malawian jails.– Photo by Luca Sola/MSF

Government spokesperson, who is also Information Minister Jappie Mhango, declined to comment on the issue.  Mhango  pushed the matter to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu. Surprisingly, Tembenu also tossed the matter to Ministry of Home Affairs, claiming such a subject does not fall under his ministry.

However, Home Affairs Minister Jean Kalilani could not be reached. She was reportedly outside the country  and officials in her ministry were muted on the matter.

In a letter, we have seen addressed to Prison Inspectorate Committee, the Court has faulted authorities for what it described porously handling such a “  sensitive” issue.

Views from Malawi Prison Service could not be available, as its  spokesperson Smart Maliro, never responded to a questionnaire sent to him despite days of assurance on the same.

The letter, dated 28 August, 2015, and authored by District Magistrate H/W C.S. A murani Phiri, cited among others, failure by government to seriously implement Community Service to inmates who committed minor offences, delay in deportation of aliens who have finished serving their sentences, as recipes for the indescribable congestion and shortage of food in all the Malawi’s prisons.

According to Phiri, who recently visited Maula prison in Lilongwe, disclosed that the prison in question is the hardest hit, as alone, currently  it is  keeping 2,532 inmates. Including 569 illegal immigrants.

The letter reads in part: “you may wish to be informed that as a visiting justice to prisons, police cells and other detention places, I visited Maula prison on 27/08/2015. On this day morning, they had a total of 2,532 inmates. On food they use 32 bags per day of mgaiwa flour and about 8-9 bags of beans”.

The letter, also copied to the Chief Commissioner of Prisons, Chief Immigration Officer, Chief Resident magistrate, Officer In-Charge-Maula prison, Officer In-Charge-Dowa police station, The Camp Administrator Dzaleka Refuge Camp and the Executive Secretary MHRC, Phiri also noted with concern saying that detention warrants are issued without expiry date by immigration Department. A development he said aggravates the situation.

“I was told there were about 569 remandees, 230 out of these are Ethiopians. I learnt that all of them are there on the issue of illegal entry into Malawi. Amongst these were those who had finished their term of imprisonment but were still at Maula prison on detention warrant waiting for the government to fund their deportation recommended by the court,” reads the letter.

Contacted for comment Immigration national public relation officer, Joseph Chauwa, confirmed to have had a contingent of foreigners in the prisons last year. He said the department with financial assistance from International Organization for Migration (IOM) managed to clear such a human backlog.

“If it is August last year, I think I can agree with you we had a problem of Ethiopian nationals almost 400 of them. But the problem was cleared; we managed to repatriate all of them. We worked with OIM, which assisted with air tickets. So by November, all of them were repatriated,” he said.

On the issuance of the open-ended detention warrants, Chauwa defended his department saying; the immigrants  could not have released wily- nilly as they had no travel documents and were still staying illegally.

“They were foreigners, they had no travel document, and they were illegal. So we could not just release them just like that. It was going to be very difficult to re-arrest them you know. We deliberately kept them there, pending for their deportation. That was the whole reason in doing that,” he said.

Law expert Mathews Kalimanjira, a resident of Area 36 Township in Lilongwe, concurred with the Magistrate Phiri, saying the implementation of the community service lacks both government’s commitment and compassion.

Said Kalimanjira:  “For example, if Community Service was applied to most of offenders who committed lighter offences, and that government is also committed in providing enough funding,  I am sure this could have atleast solved these problems of unnecessary congestion and acute shortage of food in our prisons”.

In 2000, government in-vain contemplated of commencing the  Community Service, as punishment to offenders whose sentences are not exceeding 12 months, aimed at mitigating congestion problems rocking all the country’s prisons.

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7 thoughts on “Court blows ‘SOS’ whistle on inhumane treatment in Malawi’s prisons”

  1. Ruben Kacheche says:

    Some cases deserve to be there no matter what conditions eg wakuba, car hijacking, rape, defilement, cash gate koma osati oba nkhuku. These guys when released are the ones who later cause havoc by committing more dangerous crimes……tipaone bwino pamenepo.

  2. Nambazo says:

    Iwe Analyst, you are the one who is bad. Dont you know that some people in prisons were wrongly accused. Do you have evidence that all illegal immigrants are criminals. Amalawi oipa ngati inu ndi omwe mukutibweretsera ma temberelo a ma floods and the like. Komanso umbuli ndi omwe umakupwetekani. You need to go back to school may be you will be able to cross the borders of our poor Malawi through the many fake NGO’s employing bad people like you. Anthu osayenda inu ndi omwe you think every illegal immigrant is bad. These are people who are running away from home coz of wars, famine and other problems. Why should the government keep them so long after serving their sentences. I now remember my father’s words who was a Supreme Court of Appeal Judge in the past. He said, people who have never stayed in prison do not know how others are suffering and when passing sentences they do not care. BUT one thing which is there oweruza anzawo maka molakwika will also be judged molakwika some day. People like you analyst are the ones who are making our Malawian brothers who are also illegal immigrants in other countries to suffer. Kuyankhula motodzuka as if you own a person. Pathetic..

    1. The Analyst says:

      Nambazo,
      If you become a leader someday, you will understand that more often than not; its necessary to reason with the mind than with the heart.
      Nonetheless, you dont have to wait until you become a leader. Otherwise, you may wait for a long time. You can do it now.
      But I understand you.

  3. NSAMALA says:

    KUNDENDE KAPENA KU BOMAKO KULIBE ANTHU ANZERU KODI ?OTI PALIBE ANGABWERE NDI NZERU ZOTI AKAIDIWA AZIUMBA NJERWA PANTHAWI YAWO YOMWE AKUGWILA KALAVULA GAGA WAWOYO AKATERO ODZIWA KUMANGA NYUMBA AZIMANGA ZIPINDA ZINA ZOSUNGILAMO AKAIDI KOMANSO NYUMBA ZA OGWIRA NTCHITO KUNDENDEKO??MAIKO ANZATHU AMAGWILITSA NTCHITO AKAIDI KUMALIMA ZAKUDYA ZOMWE MABOMA AWO AMAPITITSA NZIPATALA MMASUKULU NDI MALO OSIYANASIYANA,KODI MMESA BINGU CONFERENCE,STADIUM,PARLIAMENT,NDI NYUMBA ZAMBILI KUPHATIKIZA MISEWU YOMWE BOMA LA CHINA LINAMANGA OGWILA NTCHITO AKE NDI AKAIDI??AMALAWI TIYENI TIYAMBE KUGANIZA MOTUKULA DZIKO LATHU

  4. nyapala says:

    Why do we have to arrest illegal entrants? When found they should b immediately deported to the border where they entered into the country or they should be handed over to UNHCR!

  5. Kasamba??? says:

    Woo!!! Please,after the conlusion of my cashgate case do not me to this prison as i will be a dead man walking!!!!!!!!

  6. The Analyst says:

    O………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………O
    I wonder why some people stress themselves up and spend sleepless nights worrying about prisoners.

    These prisoners are bad people. They are in prison not because anybody hates them but because of their conduct – they rape, kill, steal, injure, wound e.t.c; and someone has the moral sense to feel sorry for such people? On what basis? Moral or religious basis? Or because you yourselves are prisoners-in-waiting, also? You people are mad! Dikirani muzabeledwe or kukukhapani or kuphedwa, you will forthwith stop this nonsense!

    If you begin advocating for community service as a punishment, won’t we run the risk of ambiguity on the definition of a lighter sentence and abuse of the same?
    . . . If less that 12 month is the yardstick for defining lightness of a sentence, then you are just as pathetic as a lizard and as misguided as a frog, who refuses to observe. Truth is; judges’ incompetence and unprofessionalism hence bias and meting out of comedy of sentences, is just as common in Malawi’s justice system as less common in other well-wishing countries.
    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
    Ever read or heard about Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism of pleasure/happiness on one hand and pain/harm on the other?
    It is an idea that concerns itself with the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It advocates for doing what brings the greatest net pleasure to society; and therefore allows for harm or pain to a few to be justified by benefit or pleasure for many.

    Wearing and seeing through these lens, we can see and logically conclude that the net benefit/happiness/pleasure of locking up these prisoners in these “deplorable” conditions is higher than releasing some of them for community service. We can even kill some of them, as long as the harm to them is less than the benefit to the wider society,

    We need to think and act tough sometimes, for the benefit of many.
    O…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….O

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