Friday, April 06, 2012

Man on death row complains of poor justice system

Man on death row complains of poor justice system
By Kombe Chimpinde and Bright Mukwasa
Fri 06 Apr. 2012, 13:55 CAT

A murder accused inmate currently on death row at Mukobeko Maximum Prison pending his 1993 appeal case has asked the government to intervene in the dispensation of justice in Zambia.

And Vice-President Guy Scott, who described the state of Zambia's only maximum security prison as hell, said there was need for a total rehabilitation of the system. Meanwhile, home affairs minister Kennedy Sakeni said the rights of prisoners must be respected.

In an interview after Vice-President Scott toured Kabwe's Mukobeko Maximum Prison, Benjamin Miti, 43, said the continued pilling of prisoners, especially those on remand for capital offences who were awaiting clearance by the courts of law, was contributing to the congestion in prisons.

Established in 1954, Mukobeka Maximum Prison has a capacity of 1062, representing both females and males. Vice-President Scott's visit to the facility is the first of a high-ranking official since independence.

Benjamin, who was condemned to death for murder when he was 20 years old, explained that there were many inmates whose appeal cases had not been disposed of while others had been told that their files had gone missing.

"My fate is yet to be decided because the Supreme Court where my appeal case is has informed us that it is unable to trace my case. So I will have to wait. Imagine, I have lived for 19 years without knowing my fate," he explained, naming many others who were in a similar situation.

And Vice-President Scott said a lot of things had gone wrong in the system and there was need for a total overhaul.

"The President heard of the conditions here and he directed me to come to you and report back. Others have had your appeals rejected. We have to find a solution because this is hell on earth," Dr Scott said shortly after he toured the condemned section of the prison where 281 prisoners are held against a capacity of 48.

"As the government, we can't allow the present situation to continue."

Vice-President Scott was astounded to learn that six to seven prisoners were sharing a cell meant for one inmate when he demanded to see how the prisoners were sleeping.

"Indeed the congestion is visible even for the press to see and indeed, that's not the way it is supposed to be. It is inhuman that a cell where one person is supposed to sleep is occupied by seven people. We know your toilets are in the cell in form of a container, that is surely inhuman," he said.

And Bwacha Parish Priest Fr Bernard Bohan who has been working with the prison for 23 years said the death penalty was inhuman because no human being had a right to take away another's life.

Fr Bohan prayed that killing of the condemned never occurs in Zambia again after witnessing the brutal ritual conducted in the gallows of the prison.

And Sakeni said the situation at Mukobeko gave a clear picture of the situation in the rest of the prisons in the country.

And Zambia Prisons Commissioner Percy Chota said the national total holding capacity of 7,500 prisoners had been suppressed by the current total number of 16, 500 inmates countrywide.

Chota said over 150 people on the death row had not had their cases disposed of by the courts of law, saying if such was avoided, it would assist in reducing congestion at the prison.

And touring Mwembeshi prison yesterday morning, Vice-President Scott said the government would bring reforms to stop congestion in most prisons in various parts of the country.

He said the completion of the Mwembeshi Prison under construction would boost efforts in decongesting Zambia's only operational Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe.
"…There is only one maximum security prison working in Zambia at the moment and this will make two…," said Vice-President Scott.

He said there was a trend in the past where governments started building structures and without completing, they embarked on another.

"I don't know why we start something, we stop, we restart, we stop instead of finishing one and then move onto the next. I have to get on my knees and plead in front of Minister of Finance to see what we can manage but unfortunately as

Vice-President I have no power and money but maybe I can put some persuasive influence so that this actual block is finished and so are those other two. We should try and get it finished this year. Then now we can decongest some of what we saw yesterday (at Kabwe maximum prison)," said Vice-President Scott.

"I mean you should be decongesting the other maximum security facility. It will be very useful if you can expand an open area..."



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