CSOs call for prisons decongestion due to COVID-19

Malawi Prisons

As countries across world put up measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including cancelling of activities that attract crowds, some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Malawi have called on President Peter Mutharika to consider decongesting prisons as precautionary measure.

The CSOs consisting Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), Youth Watch Society, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre (CRAPAC), and Centre For Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) commended the formation of the Special Cabinet on Corona virus, but said more needs to be done.

According to a statement the CSOs have jointly released, they say even though no case has been registered in Malawi, the most vulnerable groups in the society like prisoners need urgent preventive measures.

We call upon His Excellency the President to urgently exercise his prerogative powers under section 89(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi to pardon some convicted offenders or grant stays of execution of sentences, reduce sentences and remit sentences in order to reduce congestion in prison.  Priority should be given to those that are terminally ill, older persons, persons with TB and other chronic illnesses and those who have served a substantial part of their sentences.

"We urge His Excellency the President to prevent the detention in prison of all migrants who are detained on immigration-related charges. We further urge the President to release all prisoners who are serving time for minor offences including contempt of court, being idle and disorderly, being a rogue and vagabond, common nuisance and breach of peace,” reads the statement.

They have also requested that the judiciary urgently be provided with necessary support to conduct emergency camp courts at prisons in the next two weeks.

The CSOs think the courts should consider releasing with or without bail prisoners on remand but have exceeded pre-trial custody time limit.

They also want priority to be given to the elderly, those critically ill and women in detention with their children.

Malawi Prisons remain overcrowded with over 14000 inmates against a capacity of 5000.