Civil rights groups continue to demand for government to pardon more vulnerable inmates to reduce further spread of Covid-19 in the country’s prisons.
Five local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with prisons have written government expressing concerns and presenting demands over the continued congestion in the country’s prisons amid the pandemic.
The five human rights groups include South Africa-based Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI), Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (Pasi) and Reprieve of United Kingdom.
The organisations note that while efforts have been made by government to pardon inmates, the prisons remain “very congested and other vulnerable categories of prisoners, such as the elderly and the sick, have been overlooked”.
“Furthermore, it is unclear how decisions for release are made as the current commutation and pardon processes lack transparency,” reads their letter addressed to Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda.
But when contacted, Chimwendo Banda said he had not yet received the letter from the NGOs.
The letter is a follow-up to one submitted in July 2020. Then, the five organisations also wrote the minister and President Lazarus Chakwera expressing concern about the severity of prisons’ overcrowding, and the risks posed in view of Covid–19.
Currently, the country’s 30 prisons, regarded as among the world’s most overcrowded correctional facilities, accommodate around 12 000 inmates, against a holding capacity of 5 000—an average of 240 percent capacity while prisons in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba operate at around 300 percent capacity.
While local statistics indicate a general downward trend in Covid-19 cases, Malawi Prisons Service (MPS) last week registered 23 new cases after almost a month without registering any.
This came at a time prison authorities were contemplating re-opening the facilities to visitors, a decision they have since rescinded.
Lawyer and reprieve fellow Alexious Kamangira said in an interview that they presented their demands to government because of the “worrying prevailing conditions of inmates in prisons”.