Suspects rot in Malawi prisons, police cells

While President Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration keeps on disregarding the ongoing judiciary strike, thousands of suspects continue to languish in the country’s prisons and police cells.

The strike, which started on 9th January 2012, has now clocked exactly two months and according to prison authorities, about 1000 suspects are being denied justice as they cannot stand trial.

Initially the strike was for support staff but it took a new twist last week when senior members of the judiciary, which is one of the three arms of government, including judges and magistrates joined the fray to fight for what belongs to them.

Malawi Prisons Service Spokesperson Evans Phiri said as the strike clocked exactly two months on Friday the country’s prisons had 974 suspects waiting to appear in courts for trial.

Prisoners sleep in cramped positions inside an overcrowded cell in the Maula Prison. -Photo: Joao Silva

“It is a worrying situation because our prisons are already congested. As of Friday, the number of suspects had gone up to 974 but we are trying to find solutions to the problem with the help of our colleagues in the Malawi Police Service,” explained Phiri.

The prisons spokesperson said suspects with minor crimes were being remanded in police cells so as to create enough space for those with serious cases.

“Our friends at police are remanding those with minor cases but still it is not helping because our prisons are already congested,” said Phiri.

The judiciary strike has worsened the situation as police cells are also impregnated with suspects who are denied justice, among others, and yet they continue arresting more and more suspects across the country.

Last week, a local radio reported that the congestion in prisons and police cells was forcing new remandees to contract various diseases like TB because they were sleeping on top of each other after authorities mixed inmates suffering from TB with others due to lack of space.

Reports also indicated that at Zomba Maximum Security Prison, there were about 190 remandees and over 2,000 prisoners all packed in a jail meant for only 800 inmates. Maula Prison in Lilongwe, designated for 800 inmates, as of last week, had over 600 remandees with about 2,100 inmates.

And at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre the Spokesperson Hariet Makawa confirmed that there were close to 3000 remandees and prisoners for the place built to accommodate only 800 inmates.

Since the strike started, President Mutharika has avoided commenting on the issue instead he continues with his animosity by threatening donors, the civil society and opposition parties of wanting to overthrow his government.

The judiciary system in the country has completely shut down as employees push the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to implement the new conditions of service which were duly approved by the National Assembly in 2006 but the then Minister of Finance Goodal Gondwe refused to start the implementation.

Some analysts have stated that it was very likely for Mutharika to continue giving a blind eye to the protracted strike, because he likes the current state of affairs which he is using to punish his critics.

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