The state-funded Malawi Human Rights Committee (MHRC) and the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament are investigating a fracas that happened at Zomba Maximum Prison last week, when prison wardens confiscated 700 cellphones, bottles of beer and drugs such as Indian hemp and other stuff the prisoners are barred from taking into the cells.
According to a source, prison wardens’ swoop on the inmates and their rooms to confisticate the illegal items on February 16, triggered massive resistance from the inmates, who fought with the prison officers.
Government admits that several wardens and inmates were injured in the process, some seriously. But an independent report, quoted by one parliamentarian, says the fracas resulted in at least loss of a life.
Outgoing executive secretary for MHRC Grace Malera this week confirmed that her organisation received a report on the fracas and is probing its cause. She said the report did not capture if any of those involved had died or had been injured.
“We dispatched a team of investigators on Monday [this week] and they are in Zomba, as we speak. I will share our preliminary findings,” she said.
Meanwhile, Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Maxwell Thyolera also confirmed that the incident occurred, adding that as an oversight arm of government, his committee and the Defence and Security Committee of Parliament, will visit the prison soon, to have first-hand information and see how to solve some of the challenges being faced by the Malawi Prison Service (MPS).
Obviously, the large amount of confiscated items at the prison is proof that the search and monitoring systems—particularly at a maximum prison—are seriously breached.
The parliamentary committees will also have to probe the alleged open secret that warders actively facilitate the entry of the illegal items into prisons after being bribed by either inmates or their suppliers from the ‘outside world’.
In several prisons in the country, there have been dramatic jail breaks whereby inmates escape after using metal and other implements to bore through prison walls and cut through barbed wire. Questions have been asked how such inmates access these implements, in the first place.
Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia admitted to Weekend Nation that the rare fighting between warders and inmates had occurred in Zomba, but denied reports of any death.
Said she: “I have been reliably informed by prison authorities that there, indeed, had been a fracas at Zomba Maximum Prison after an exercise that was meant to confiscate illegal items in the cells. But there was no death and the situation is now back to normal.”
But this week, before Parliament rose sine die on Thursday, Member of Parliament for Rumphi East Kamlepo Kalua raised the issue in the Chamber, with another slant to the story.
He said in the fracas, “a situation is brewing… where prison warders severely assaulted prisoners after the prisoners had tried to come to the rescue of one of their own who was being beaten up by the warders for having been found in possession of some forbidden materials. As a result of the assault by warders, several prisoners were injured and, as I speak, I am told one of them has died.”
Kalua said he had names of those affected but said he could not disclose them, just in case their family members had not been informed. He added that another prisoner affected in the fracas was in a critical condition and the warders were refusing to take him to the hospital, just so they could keep this issue under wraps.
“What scares me the most is that I am now reliably informed that, following this death, tension tension between prisoners and warders is very high today, with the prisoners now blocking warders from entering certain areas of the prison and if immediate action is not taken, there could be a serious confrontation which could lead to further injuries, if not loss of life,” he stated.
Kalua pressed Chiumia to inform Parliament what she knows about the matter, what she is doing about it and why she had decided to stay quiet on the issue.
He further asked the House to demand that, if is someone had died in the incident, then an independent post-mortem needed to be conducted before the body was buried. n