Malawi Govt inaction on court order over appaling prison conditions

Malawi Government has not acted  to Constitutional Court order to improve poor conditions in country’s prison, which were described as violation of human rights , Nyasa Times has established.

The Constitutional Court in Lilongwe on September 10, 2011 acting on judicial review application by one of in-mates, Gable Masangano, gave government 18 months to reduce prison overcrowding by half, provide medical treatment to sick in-mates, provide required clothing and improve food allocation for prisoners and ensure strict respect of in-mates’ rights.

In his application, Masangano, on behalf of other prisoners, complained of insufficient of ordinary diet which only comprises of maize meal (nsima) and peas or beans, lack of clothing and accessories such as two pair of shorts, singlets, soap, and a pair of sandals contrary to Prison regulations in the Prison Acts.

Masangano also complained of insufficient or total lack of cell equipment such as blankets, sleeping marts and mugs, congestions as each cell meant for 80 prisoners, houses almost 120 in-mates.

A prison facility in Ntcheu, central district of Malawi

A prison facility in Ntcheu, central district of Malawi

He also cited issues of harassment and torture by prison warders in front of in-mates’ relatives and that the prisoners are denied right to chat with relatives in visitors’ room as only those with money wee allowed to have access to communication.

And in their judgment, judges, Richard Chinangwa, Rezine Zikamanda and justice Chombo ordered government to comply with the ruling and ordered Parliament to allocate enough funding to prison service to enable it meet their obligations under the law.

“Accordingly we direct the respondents to comply with this judgment within a period of 18 months by taking concrete steps in reducing prison overcrowding by half, thereafter periodically reducing the remainder to eliminate overcrowding and by improving the ventilation in our prisons and, further, by improving prison conditions generally,” reads part of the judgment.

And over a year since the judgment was made, it has been established that government has failed to comply with the order in reducing congestion, provide enough food to in-mates apart from ensuring that human rights are respected.

The country’s main prisons of Maula, Chichiri and Zomba are still congested with food allocation still remains of one meal per day without breakfast, there is lack of sleeping mats and blankets as well sufficient clothing contrary to Prisons Regulations as stipulated in Prisons Act.

The in-mates are still subjected to inhuman conditions such as lack of ventilations in prison cells resulting into spread of diseases such as Tuberculosis, diarrhea and Scabies, and still denied right to proper medical treatment.

In an interview, Masangano’s lawyer, Ambokire Salimu disclosed to Nyasa Times that effort to have government obey the court order has proven futile as the situation in prisons continue to deteriorating.

“I have tried to raise it with the previous AGs but there is nothing happening. Our main concern is failure to obey the order issued by the court of law, which is absurd. This is a court order and it has to be followed,” Salimu noted.

But Attorney General (AG) Anthony Kamanga in separate interview while expressing surprise that the order was not complied, said would have round-table with Masangano’s lawyer on the matter.

“The best thing is to have a meeting with the lawyer representing the in-mates so we can look into how best we can work out this issue. Otherwise it is difficult to discuss through the media,” said Kamanga.

Human rights activists have on several occasions criticized the government for neglecting poor conditions in country’s prisons.

In 2011, rights activist Ben Chiza Mkandawire expressed how appalled he was at condition at prison conditions in the Country’s Capital Lilongwe, after he spent days in detention alongside other four activists.

Meanwhile, the country prisons have been hit by food shortages, forcing the authorities to start rationing the already insufficient diet.

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