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Illicit smuggling at Zomba prison

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It has now been confirmed that some ‘dishonest’ prison officers are perpetuating the smuggling of illegal substances such as beer, phones, Sim cards and Marijuana into prison cells.
This has been revealed in the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) findings report on the investigation of a fracas that happened at Zomba Central Prison in February this year, where inmates fought with prison warders.
The investigation was sanctioned in March this year.
The report says the prison faces a big challenge of controlling the entry of prohibited items into the cells.
“Prison officials, including the acting Chief Commissioner (then Dr. Little Mtengano) have conceded that the prohibited items found their way into the cells either through dishonest prison officers or through visitors that come to conduct certain activities at the prison,” reads part of the MHRC report titled Investigation report:
In the matter of alleged assault and abuse of prisoners at Zomba Central Prison, which we have seen.
In February this year, the authorities at Zomba Maximum Prison conducted a search (Cell
62 of Block A) in which they confiscated illegal items such as beer, phones, Sim cards and Marijuana. Huge quantities of Marijuana were hidden in a five litre container. The search did not go down well with the inmates, who claimed the officers used violence to confiscate a phone from one prisoner, which ended in a fracas.
“Lack of equipment to monitor entry of prohibited items in the prison has created a leeway where dubious people beat the physical checking and let prohibited items into the prison. In addition, some prison officials act as a conduit for prohibited items to get into the prison,” reads the report in part.
“The existence of these illicit materials shows an element of indiscipline among prison officers.
They are the ones that bring these things for prisoners. The mere existence of these things inside the prison shows that something is wrong,” said MHRC’s Director of Civil and Political Rights, Peter Chisi.
“This was not a routine search but was sanctioned because of the allegations that were brought before the officers by informants.
In the course of the search, one inmate, by the name Levi Makoka Maganga, from Cell 62 was found in possession of two mobile phones which were confiscated by prison officers.”
“However, Mr. Maganga tried to resist the confiscation which contributed to the outbreak of the fracas. Mr. Mwamande (prison officer) has been singled out by inmates as the one who also contributed to the fracas by resorting to beating inmates during the search which then provoked the inmates to retaliate by stoning the prison officers,” reads part of the report
Chisi disclosed that his organisation instituted an investigation to ascertain allegations of abuse against persons and injury to prison officials at Zomba Maximum Prison, to establish human rights violations in the matter and to identify possible solutions for redress.
It was earlier alleged that 27 officers had been injured and some prisoners died during the fracas.
But the investigations’ findings report says eight people (three officers and five inmates) sustained injuries during the fracas. All the officers were treated as outpatients at the Prison clinic, only one inmate was taken for medical care. No inmate died.
“Human rights violations occurred to both the prisoners and prison officials because both were subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment such as physical abuse.
However for prisoners, even their right to medical treatment was affected. No action was taken on the prisoners as well as prison officers that were engaged in the beatings,” notes the report.
The Legal Affairs Committee of parliament had also said it would institute an investigation into the matter. But we have learnt that the issue was later pushed to the Defence and Security Committee of Parliament.
Former Chairperson for the Defence and Security Committee of Parliament, Olipa Muyaba-
Chiluba said the committee went to the prison but its investigation focused on prisoners’ welfare in general.
“We filed a report of our investigation but we couldn’t tell much about the place… We didn’t visit the whole place as we were told that some cells were very dangerous for us…It’s as if people knew that we were going there so we can’t say we have all the information about the place,” she said.
Last month, Zomba Maximum Prison installed a mobile telecommunications jamming machine worth about K19.5 million aimed at cutting communication between prisoners and the outside world.
Spokesperson for Malawi Prisons Service (MPS), Smart Maliro is on record assuring the public that the country’s prisons are dutifully guarded 24 hours to ensure maximum security and safety at all times.
Maliro stressed that prison authorities are empowered through the Prison Act to conduct routine searches every fortnight to ensure that prisons are always free from all sorts of prohibited articles.
“However, the results have never been for the public’s consumption as these are issues of security where some information always remains classified,” he said.
Among others, the MHRC report recommends that the MPS should develop mechanisms for disciplining staff involved in unprofessional conduct, more prison facilities must be constructed in order to reduce congestion of prisons and Prison Officials must review the procedures for doing impromptu searches so that they do not endanger the lives of prison officers and inmates.

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