Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have called on government to decongest the country’s prisons following confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus at Chichiri and Mzimba Prisons.

On July 14, Malawi Prison Spokesperson Superintendent Chimwemwe Shaba confirmed that Chichiri prison has a confirmed case of Covid-19 where an inmate tested positive for the virus, before a prison officer was also diagnosed with the virus at Mzimba prison.

In a press statement seen by this publication, the CSOs have said the two cases have been isolated including those who came in contact with the confirmed cases in both prisons.

However, the CSOs are demanding that more should be done considering “the severe overcrowding of Malawi’s prisons,”

“Isolating those who were directly in contact with the two cases is a difficult task and does not eliminate the high risk of further infections in the two prisons,” reads part of the statement.

The statement continued by bemoaning the shortage of test kits in the country which has seen hospitals failing to provide mass testing or all prisoners in the two prisons that have been affected currently.

“This situation is extremely dangerous requires the State to urgently take concrete steps to drastically reduce congestion in prisons and take action to prevent the spread of the virus within these prisons,” reads the statement.

The statement has also called officials of Malawi Prison to designate at least four Isolation centers in each region in the country for new prison remandees.

The statement has also appealed to the Malawi Government to help the country’s prisons by making sure that each and every prison has isolation center.

“Notwithstanding these developments, there is still a lack of isolation rooms for suspected and confirmed cases within the prisons. We call on the government to support the Malawi Prison Service in establishing isolation rooms in each prison, in order to facilitate the isolation of any suspected or confirmed cases,” reads the statement.

It added; “All isolation facilities should be well equipped with infection, prevent and control (IPC) materials as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) as per national guidelines”

The human rights defenders also asked the government to ensure that there are enough testing kits and are immediately available.

“We further appeal to the government to ensure that enough test kits are immediately made available to allow for mass screening of all prisoners in the affected prisons,”

The statement has therefore appealed to President Lazarus Chakwera to pardon some of the prisoners.

“We appeal to President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera to immediately exercise his wide powers under section 89(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi to pardon or remit the sentences of all persons, regardless of the offence for which they are convicted, who: are terminally ill, older, suffering from TB, as well as persons who have served a substantial part of their sentences and those who are serving time for minor offences.

We also appeal to the Government to ensure any process for release is completely transparent.”

“We again appeal to the Minister of Homeland and Security to exercise his powers under section 110 of the Prison Act to release some prisoners serving life sentences on license, on account of old age or chronic disease,” appealed the CSOs.

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