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Prisoners bemoan tough Covid-19 measures

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Some prisoners serving in the country’s jails have bemoaned the measures that government has put in place, through the Malawi Prison Services (MPS), in regards to prevention of further spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) in prisons. Last week, 67 Covid-19 cases were registered in prison facilities, in which seven of the confirmed cases were prison officers.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two inmates from Chichiri Prison and Zomba Maximum Prison said since registering the cases, visitors were barred from visiting prisoners, a development which they allege has negatively affected them. Speaking in separate interviews, the two inmates further said they are not eating enough, claiming they are getting one meal a day.

“Since the pandemic broke out in prisons, our relatives were stopped from visiting us and we are just eating Nsima sometimes without relish in the morning and that’s about it, and the next time we eat it is the next day. So what it means is that we are eating once a day. To speak for myself, I have Tuberculosis and that means I need to keep my immunity high but it has been very difficult with the fact that we are being fed like this,” the Zomba prisoner said.

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The other inmate at Chichiri Prison, who is on Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, said much as he appreciates the need to protect them, government should review the decision to stop visitors who at times bring food.

“I and many others are struggling. Much as we were arrested for whatever crimes we committed, we deserve to be taken care of in the most comfortable way. Being imprisoned is not a crime,” he said.

However, MPS spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said while some prisoners are affected by the current arrangement, the measures put in place are in their best interest.

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“Normally, without visitors, feeding the prisoners is our responsibility, the visitors are not supposed to bring food but we permit them anyway. We cannot run away from the fact that Covid-19 has changed how we do things around here but we have no option, the measures we have put in place are for their own health benefit. As for those that have different conditions, government puts in place a two percent funding for such cases and all prisons are encouraged to use that funding for supplements for those inmates,” he said.

Meanwhile, Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Executive Director Victor Mhango has faulted the arrangement, arguing it is a known fact that the country’s prisons do not have the capacity to feed the inmates adequately.

“We think this is unfair, considering that the department of prisons does not have the capacity to feed the prisoners every day. We have been hearing stories that prisoners are not eating. So the idea of stopping visitors does not go well with the rights of prisoners in so many aspects. There are so many prisoners with special conditions requiring special food which is sometimes provided for by their relatives…the prisons cannot afford that. As such, we feel like this should have been the last measure to be imposed,” he said.

The 67 Covid-19 confirmed cases are from Chichiri, Nkhata Bay and Mzimba prison facilities. In May this year, former president Peter Mutharika pardoned about 1,392 inmates, as a measure of decongesting the country’s prisons in the wake of the pandemic.

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