Two human rights activists have called on Malawi Government to implement a 2009 ruling which ordered that prison conditions should improve within 18 months. Otherwise, they would invite a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Prisons on a fact-finding mission.
The call by the two, Habiba Osman and Billy Mayaya, who tasted Maula Prison life two years ago, comes on the heels of reports of food and fuel shortages at the prison.
Speaking in an interview on Saturday, Osman said the shortage of food at prisons was tantamount to threatening the inmates’ right to life and human dignity.
“Government should ensure there is food all the time, give the prisons enough funds so they buy their own maize,” she said.
On New Year’s Day, doctors brought in by the Centre for Legal Assistance treated 200 inmates whom prison authorities were failing to take to the hospital.
The activists also received reports that 12 female inmates had been treated for severe malnutrition and an unspecified number of inmates had died of hunger.
“These factors have been further exacerbated by lack of fuel in prison cars. The capacity of Maula is 800, but it is currently accommodating 2 300 inmates,” she said.
Mayaya said the civil society’s call on government was not a result of the wrangle between the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) whose donation of maize was turned away on New Year’s Day.
“Both of us have personally visited prisons. I visited the prison in October last year and submitted a report, but I don’t know if anything has been done so far,” said Mayaya.
He said this was why they would prompt the UN Special Rapporteur on Prisons and the Special Rapporteur of African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to examine the situation of persons deprived of their liberty and prison conditions.
But Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa said in a separate interview government is implementing the court order and a new maximum prison would be constructed in Lilongwe to reduce congestion.
He conceded that funding was not enough to cater for all the prison’s needs.
“It is the wish of government to treat all prisoners as human beings. Food is available in prisons but they cannot eat three times a day because we cannot afford it,” he said.