Prisoners in jails in Swaziland / eSwatini routinely face illegal beatings from warders and constant humiliations, according to testimony from a former inmate at Sidwashini Correctional Facility.
The 27-year-old, a prodemocracy activist charged with terrorism offences in the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, reported being ‘beaten and tortured’.
He spent four years at Sidwashini, in the Swazi capital Mbabane, before a judge acquitted and discharged him in 2014.
The man’s experience was reported by Prison Insider, which publishes testimonials from people who have been or are currently in prison.
The former inmate who was not named said, ‘I shared a cell with about 35 to 40 other prisoners, it was packed beyond its capacity, overcrowded as is the case with prisons here. The only furniture in the cell were our thin sleeping mats and blankets, separated with only about 30-centimetre space between each of them. The windows in the cells were so high up, prisoners could only see the outside of the cell by climbing onto a support, for example several blankets piled up.’
In September 2018 Swaziland’s Correctional Services revealed that the total prison population in the kingdom was 3,453, which exceeded the prison system’s designed capacity by 615 inmates.
The former inmate said, ‘In Swaziland, untried prisoners are kept under lock 24 hours a day. We did not have the luxury of going out like the convicted prisoners. It was extremely mentally challenging to be locked up all day.’
He added, ‘You would find yourself at the verge of crying due to the very cold condition, only the fear of being embarrassed for shedding tears in public could hold you back.’
He said inmates were kept in unheated cells, even during freezing weather. Breakfast was thin maize porridge four times a week and bread with black tea three times a week.
Prisoners were counted by wardens three times a day. ‘The humiliating part about the counting was that we were forced to squat in rows of five.’
The former inmate said, ‘Some mornings were disrupted by random searches. This experience was humiliating, lots of verbal and sometimes physical assaults. I saw prison officers severely assault and humiliate fellow prisoners during night searches. They took the unlucky ones to the isolation cells, where they were beaten and exposed to further degrading treatment.’
The former inmate said, ‘Finally, when the judge acquitted and discharged me, I was elated. I shall always cherish the day I was released from prison. Those emotions and feelings are still fresh in my memory. I do not think they will ever fade away. I was freed from perpetual pain and humiliation.’
There have been other reports about poor conditions at Sidwashini. In December 2017 a suspect told a magistrate that inmates there were ‘frequently assaulted’.
The Swazi Observer reported at the time the suspect whom it only named as Masuku, ‘said he suffered bruises on his body due to the heavy beating he was subjected to by the officers’.
In January 2018 there were reports of disturbances in jails in Swaziland with inmates accused of brutality against warders. It was reported that new inmates had formed gangs and warders from jails across the kingdom had been moved to two institutions at Sidwashini and Bhalekane to increase security.
There were at least two incidents where inmates rioted because they were served with poor food. These were at Sidwashini and Bhalekane. At Sidwashini, media in Swaziland reported, untrained warders were sent in to help restore peace. At Bhalekane one warder had to be taken to hospital after an alleged attack.
In 2017 the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) stepped up investigations into prison conditions in Swaziland amid reports of inhumane conditions. They included food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
In a wide-ranging questionnaire to the Swaziland Government the HRC asked for detailed information about the number of existing prisons in the kingdom, prison capacity and the number of inmates and whether there were separate facilities for adults and children. It also asks what plans Swaziland had to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
In 2014 it was reported that more than 1,000 people were in jail in Swaziland because they were too poor to pay fines for offences such as traffic violations, theft by false pretences, malicious injury to property and fraud.
The figures revealed that in Swaziland, where seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day, 1,053 of 3,615 inmates in Swazi jails were there because they did not have the money to pay a fine option. This was 29.1 percent of the entire prison population.
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