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George Nyathi, "Conditions at Khami maximum security prison are horrific"

[Kyrgyzstan] Kyrgyz prison.
There are some 17,000 prisoners in Kyrgyzstan (IRIN)

George Nyathi* was sentenced to 18 months for housebreaking in 2007, serving his term at Khami maximum security prison on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. Paroled for good behaviour, he told IRIN about his experiences in one of the country's oldest jails.

"The conditions at Khami maximum security prison are horrific. For a person like myself, who went to prison as a first-time offender, it is unimaginable to live in such conditions.

"There is no chance for anyone who goes to Khami to reform. Prisoners are there to serve their sentence and are not reformed in any way. The most serious problem is overcrowding - you find over 40 prisoners crammed in a cell meant for less than 10 people.

"Most of the inmates are ill and are suffering from various diseases, but the most common illness is tuberculosis. In most cells you find that almost half of the inmates have the disease, because it spreads fast.

"There is no running water ... in a single cell there is only one toilet that is flushed from outside, and it is only flushed once a day. Sometimes the prison wardens forget to flush it and you spend the whole day with the stench from the toilet.

"The situation can be unbearable when one or two prisoners have diarrhoea and they have to visit the toilet frequently; it means the cell will be filled with flies the whole day.

"The hospital at the prison has no drugs. For a prisoner to be referred to the prison doctor, the prisoner has to be seriously ill, and in most cases the hospital will have no medication.

"Food is a serious problem. When I went into prison we used to get black tea with a slice of plain bread in the mornings, and sadza [thick maize-meal porridge] and boiled green vegetables in the evenings.

"All that changed when food shortages really started in the country. The morning tea was cancelled, and we were only getting sadza and the boiled vegetables in the evenings. But then things got worse - the daily meal was reduced to plain sadza once a day.

"Those that survive are those with relatives that bring them food, but that does not happen on a daily basis; the prison is over 50 kilometres out of Bulawayo and most families cannot afford to visit frequently.

"Basics such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap are not supplied, and hygiene is a big issue. Prisoners are allowed to bath once a week, and ... water is rationed - a prisoner gets half a bucket for bathing.

"The prison also does not have enough blankets and jerseys. Prisoners have to share a single blanket among three prisoners. The blankets are lice-infested and in most cases they are torn, and prisoners during winter huddle together to create warmth.

"Prisoners spend the whole day locked up, including those sentenced to hard labour, as there is no transport to move them to work sites. So the day is spent in the dark cells and prisoners are only let out to eat their daily meal in the evening, and they retire to bed at around six in the evening.

"Another issue concerns human rights abuses: prisoners are tortured and assaulted by prison wardens for committing small offences. The offences usually include talking after the sleeping-time curfew has been imposed, and for taking too long to obey orders."

*Not his real name (in fear of victimization should he be re-arrested and sent to prison again)


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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