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Prisoner transfers rile rights bodies

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Chimwemwe Shaba

By Wezzie Gausi:

As Malawi grapples with a sharp rise in coronavirus-positive cases, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has faulted prison authorities for continuing to transfer inmates from one facility to another.

Recently, during a mass screening exercise at Ntchisi Prison, 43 inmates tested positive for coronavirus.

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CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa Tuesday said the conduct could accelerate the spread of coronavirus in Malawi.

“We have received a letter from inmates, who are complaining that what prison authorities are doing would expose them to coronavirus infection,” he said.

Kaiyatsa urged President Lazarus Chakwera to use his powers to decongest holding facilities in the wake of growing cases of Covid.

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He cited Section 89(2) of the Constitution, which gives the President powers to pardon prisoners and do other things.

“These powers extend beyond the pardoning of convicted offenders to granting stays of execution of sentences, reducing sentences and remitting sentences, “Kaiyatsa said.

Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance Executive Director Victor Mhango said the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) was in a tight corner as it was on the receiving end of other people’s decisions.

“That said, we appeal to the Commissioner of Prisons to recommend revision of sentences on grounds of conduct and mental or physical condition of prisoners, as provided for under Section 108 of the Prison Act,” Mhango said.

MPS spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said inmates had nothing to worry about since those that test coronavirus-positive are kept in separate cells.

He said, as things stood, cells that were meant for female inmates had been turned into isolation centres.

“The prison had already made prior arrangements for inmates who tested positive. So, there is going to be no mix-ups for those found coronavirus-positive and those that test negative,” Shaba said.

President Lazarus Chakwera pardoned about 156 prisoners as part of the country’s 57th independence anniversary celebrations.

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