COVID-19: CSOs demand release of prisoners

Maula prison

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Malawi have demanded the release of inmates in the country’s prisons as one way of fighting the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The five CSOs namely Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), Saint Egidio, REPRIEVE, Irish Rule of Law, and Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) have demanded that government should consider decongesting the country’s as a way of preventing COVID-19 spread to men, women and children behind the walls through their joint statement released on Friday.

“We commend the swift action to organize camp courts across the country. Magistrates should recognize that these courts operate in extraordinary circumstances, and that the primary focus is to reduce prison overcrowding, as quickly as possible,” reads part of the statement.

The CSOs have also faulted government for falling to adhere to the directive of hygiene standards of washing hands with soap regularly to all the citizens of this country by not providing soap to the inmates for them to wash hands.

“The Government recommends hand-washing stations, but cell blocks still lack even the most basic sanitation and hygiene facilities, such as buckets and soap. In such conditions, an outbreak of COVID-19 could prove impossible to contain,” reads further the statement.

The CSOs then urged the Police in the country to avoid making arrests on minor matters and refrain from demanding cash bail as a way of avoiding overcrowding in Police cells.

Malawi’s judiciary through Magistrates court has also been urged to support in fighting COVID-19 spread by considering non-custodial sentences wherever possible and enforcing pre-trial custody limits.

Among the groups that the CSOs’ have suggested for their release include inmates over the age 55, children, women with children and prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions.
Malawi is one the countries in the world that has not registered a case of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed lives of thousands around the globe.

Though the country has not registered any case, authorities have enforced safety measures as a way of ensuring that its citizens are safe from the virus.
Citizens have been urged to stop staying in overcrowded places, stop the traditional way of greeting one another by shaking hands, just to mention a few.

However, the country has high numbers of prisoners who stay in extremely overcrowded cells as they serve their jail terms.