Blantyre, Malawi – The situation is still tense at Zomba Central Prison where prisoners serving life sentences for various crimes, including murder, ran riot Sunday protesting the pardon of two prisoners. As part of commemorations marking 48 years of independence from Great Britain, President Joyce Banda Friday pardoned 377 prisoners. She, however, said she rejected some recommended names because they were doing time for rape and defilement. Evance Phiri, the Malawi Prison Service spokesman, said Sunday night that all the 34 have now finally been released. “We have processed their papers and everyone has gone home,” he said. “We are just given a list of those that have been pardoned and our duty is just to implement the orders.”
But prison and police sources say the release was not without drama as some prisoners prevented the controversial two from being released and paramilitary police beat them up and arrested three. They had to release the two under heavy police guard. “We arrested Aaron Makumba, Rodrick Magombo and Mabvuto Elias, all serving life, because they were ring leaders,” said a police officer who participated in the operation. “They wanted to prevent us from taking out the two.” Presidential Press Secretary Steve Nhlane said President Banda was not aware that the list had names of prisoners with serious crimes. “The list comprises names of those to be pardoned, crimes they were convicted for and why they must be pardoned,” Nhlane said Sunday night. “The President was emphatic that she would not pardon defilers and rapists. She was therefore not aware that some on the list were rapists, a different crime must have been inserted for them because she put her foot down on defilers and rapists.” Banda herself said this when releasing the 377 prisoners as part of celebrations marking Malawi’s 48 years as an independent state. “I rejected 11 recommended names because they were defilers and rapists,” she said. “One of them has serious liver problem but we will bury him if need be because he knowingly doomed the future of young girl whom he raped repeatedly.”
But the prisoners at Zomba Central Prison alleged that among the 34 prisoners lined up for the presidential pardons at the penitentiary was one doing time for rape and other serving life sentence for murder. “These people have been pardoned because they are connected to big people in government and yet the President herself said she wouldn’t pardon rapists,” said one prisoner doing life sentence for murder. The prisoners alleged that Eston Kawenga would have served time up to 2017 for rape while George Allan Nyambi was serving a life sentence for murder. He was convicted of murder alongside Chief Nyambi of the southern district of Machinga for murdering a man found stealing in the chief’s garden. The chief has already received a presidential pardon. The irate prisoners broke free from their cells and went on a rampage in the prison ground. They later broke into the prison warders’ offices were release papers for the two and the 32 others were being prepared. They wrestled the two from the warders and forced them back to their cells. “If these two are released then all of us doing time for rape or are on life sentence are also going to be released,” said one of the prisoners.
Warders had to seek help from police to restore order. The prisoners have since formed a 20-man committee on this. “We are planning to go on hunger strike over this,” said one prisoner. The pardons committee comprises Chief Commissioner of Prisons, Attorney General, a police officer, a lawyer and a physician. Attorney General Ralph Kasambara is the one that presented the list of those to be pardoned to President Banda, according to Nhlane. Meanwhile, after the two were released under heavy police guard the inmates started chanting protest songs but armed police are guarding the facility. There are 183 prisoners doing life sentences at Zomba Central Prison renowned to host political prisoners in the past. Malawi’s 23 prisons are renowned for being overcrowded. Statistics show that Malawi prisons, with a capacity of only 5, 500 inmates, currently hold more than 12 000 convicts.(rt)
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