Mercenaries’ ordeal exposes hell in Zim prisons

Gift Phiri

THE assault by prison guards on some of the 67 “mercenaries” jailed at Chikurubi Maximum Prison throws a spotlight on inhuman treatment that prisoners are subjected to in the country’s prisons.
STRONG>


During the six months that the “soldiers of fortune” have been remanded at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, they have experienced an appalling existence in a prison that breaches every international human rights convention and many national statutes.

It is alleged that the 12 prison officers, who appeared in court last Friday, jointly charged in common cause, assaulted the suspects using open hands and batons. They are alleged to have forced the suspects to remove their clothes before assaulting them.

The men were berated by the officers as having “superior-being” attitudes. In their court testimonies the suspects said the officers constantly yelled at them. During the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays, prison authorities allegedly confiscated their parcels that had been legally admitted into the prison.

Prison sources said the ill-treatment of prisoners was generally prevalent in all of the country’s 41 jails. They said the situation was exacerbated by the severe shortage of food that has resulted in prisoners missing some meals. The Independent was told that the situation was equally serious in remand prisons. People with relatives remanded in custody were being asked to bring them meals, as there was no food to cater for the swelling numbers of people remanded in custody everyday. The officers said suspects in remand prisons were being served a single meal a day.

Both the prisons and the remand prisons were said to be struggling to cope financially and prisoners were being forced to supply their own soap, toothpaste and other toiletries, all of which are supposed to be supplied by the state.

It was not possible to obtain comment from the Zimbabwe Prison Service public relations officer Elizabeth Banda as she was said to be out. Calls to her mobile phone went unanswered.

Reports of homosexual activities also abound in the prisons as some long-serving prisoners were said to be luring newer inmates with food.

“The food crisis in prisons is fuelling homosexuality and with the threats posed by Aids, this is just a cocktail for disaster,” a prison officer said.

Three years ago there was a public uproar after government suggested that condoms be distributed to inmates. The idea was promptly discarded.

The officers said the prisons have become so overcrowded that inmates are literally “sleeping on top of each other”.

A recent parliamentary report stated that facilities designed to handle 16 000 inmates were now handling 25 000. There was a general amnesty last year that saw hundreds of prisoners being released countrywide through the presidential prerogative of mercy. But hardly a year down the line, the prisons are again full owing to the soaring crime rate.

Top