Torturing prisoners

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) must be commended for exposing the appalling conditions under which Prisoners in Isoka- Muchinga Province are being kept.

The cruel and degrading treatment meted out to inmates is not only a violation of Human Rights but a deliberate abuse of authority that should not be accepted. Those responsible must be brought to book to set an example to other who may be tempted to dispense extra-judicial punishment.

It must be understood that our prisons perform the dual roles of being remand centers as well as penal institutions for those that have been convicted. No distinction is made between the two in terms of the treatment and privileges provided.

This means that Prisoners or remandees awaiting trial are confined in the same space and treated with the same harshness as those that have already been convicted. In some cases convicts are even treated more humanely as they are allowed out of the cells to perform tasks within or outside the prison, whereas remandees are kept indoors pending hearing of their cases.

It is bad enough to be incarcerated in prison but another to be subjected to cruelty and degrading treatment.

While it is true that escapees must be treated harshly in order to prevent future attempts, the officers at Isoka where an escape occurred earlier this month appear to have gone overboard in the treatment of errant prisoners.

Zambia is a signatory to a number of conventions which dictate how prisoners should be treated and so far we have performed below par on account of facilities. It would therefore be unfortunate if we  went even further to inflict physical torture and pain against prisoners- conduct that is prohibited by international standards.

The catalogue of inhuman treatment listed by the HRC is quite disturbing For example keeping inmates locked in their cells the whole day seems extreme, as individuals must be allowed an opportunity for exercise and movement.

But worst of all is the physical beating that prisoners are subjected to. The Commission has confirmed evidence of prisoners with scars to testify to the indignity and inhumanity they are subjected to.

The commission also found that the Prisoners were not allowed visitors and in some cases were not even allowed to seek medical treatment for ailments, some of which are life threatening.

The banning of visitors means that those prisoners granted bail are unable to get sureties to pay for them. This means an extended stay in prison where they will not be given food and must depend on convicted colleagues who are provided with prison food.  There seems to be a mistaken notion in Isoka that remandees are not entitled to Government food. This is of course wrong- all prisoners are entitled to Government     food.

We would like to make a very earnest appeal to the Prison command to take the HR$C report seriously and effect the necessary changes.

It is very inhuman to subject fellow citizens to degrading treatment and equally unfair to treat remandees who have not been convicted in a manner that suggests that they are already being punished.