An inmate at a prison in Swaziland (eSwatini) was allegedly killed by warders during a riot involving gang members.
It happened on Tuesday night (9 June 2020) at the Sidwashini correctional facility in the Swazi capital Mbabane.
The dead man was 25 years old and serving a three-year sentence for grievous bodily harm and another three-month sentence for malicious damage to property.
The Times of eSwatini reported that the man allegedly died at the hands of prison officers. This has not been confirmed by prison authorities.
In a statement His Majesty's Correctional Services said there had been a riot and members of a group known as the 28 Gang attacked non-gang members. Prison officers intervened and prisoners threw missiles at them, including water taps and pipes. Officers used batons to protect themselves.
The statement said, ‘Some of the inmates sustained injuries as they stumbled on each other during the scuffle with one inmate later succumbing to death having being taken to Mbabane Government Hospital.’
The poor conditions at Sidwashini were highlighted in April 2019 in testimony from a former inmate. The 27-year-old 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 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 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 warders 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.’
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.
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