Government has continued to defy a 2009 Constitutional Court judgement which ordered it to preserve prisoners’ rights by providing minimum standards that include food, clothing and decongested cells.
The court had also ordered Parliament to provide adequate resources to the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) to ensure the country abides by the international human rights standards and stop torturous environment inmates go through, this too, has not happened.
At a time the judgement was made by justices Rezine Mzikamanda and Esmie Chombo, the Malawi prisons—designed to hold about 6 000 inmates—were holding around 13 000 inmates, according records authorities provided.
But at present, according to our insiders at MPS, the total holding capacity in Malawi prisons stands at around 7 000, but the facilities are holding close to 12 000 inmates—almost double their capacity.
This is happening 11 years after authorities were ordered, in 2009 in the historic Gable Masangano case, by the Constitutional Court, to reduce the number by half, a provision of proper food rations and clothing.
Masangano, a prisoner and acting on his behalf and on behalf of all prisoners in Malawi, were represented by private practice lawyer Ambokire Salimu and they successfully sued the Attorney General (AG), Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security and Commissioner of Prisons then.
But conditions in prisons, despite the 2009 Masangano’s constitutional case, remain undesirable and below minimum standards as provided for by the Prisons Act.
Salimu, in an interview, said it was extremely horrendous that for 11 years, authorities have failed to comply with a court order, with a total number of five AGs coming in office and leaving office but leaving this matter unresolved.
Salimu, who said he has not given up on the matter, said while this was a clear case of contempt of court, he decided not to take that path on realisation that such an action would not yield the much-needed results as the judgement tackled a number of institutions that included Parliament.
He said he was looking forward to see how the new Tonse Alliance administration would handle this matter having centrally campaigned to govern on principle of rule of law.
MPS spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba asked for more time to respond to a questionnaire when asked about the current situation and why prisons remain overcrowded despite the judgement by the court to have them decongested.
But prison authorities have previously attributed the congested prisons to rising number of criminal activities.