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May 28 2009 | TANZANIA


Commission for Human Rights: "Death row inmates denied toilet facilities"

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`Death row inmates denied toilet facilities`

A Delegation from the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance made an inspection tour of Ukonga maximum security prison in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, amid fresh revelations that death row inmates there are denied access to toilet facilities.

The Guardian was informed of the visit by a source on Tuesday, and yesterday it was confirmed by the commission’s chairman, Justice (rtd) Amir Manento.

Ukonga prison is believed to have more than 3,000 inmates on average at any given time, some 90 of whom have been on death row for more than 20 years after being convicted of murder.

The source stated that a delegation from the Commission had toured the prison, including a maximum security cell dubbed ‘Condemned Wing’, where they obtained first-hand information through observations and interviews with inmates.

“The delegation was told of every trouble the inmates were facing, including starvation and smuggling of their ration,” said the source.

According to the source, the Commission was briefed on the problems faced by the inmates and promised to communicate the information to the Commissioner of Prisons, although no immediate action was taken.

Manento said in yesterday’s interview the Commission was waiting for a general report from the commissioner, who is tasked with visiting all prisons in Dar es Salaam and Coast Region.

Asked why death row prisoners are kept indoors without access to toilet facilities, he responded that prison punishments vary in severity.

“But let’s wait for the report. When it is ready we can determine if it was a valid punishment on cells or something else,” he added.

Manento said the delegation is still in the process of touring Segerea, Keko and Bagamoyo prisons, before submitting its report “in the near future”.

“He (the head of the Commission delegation) has not arrived, but we are waiting for the report from the team after they finish visiting all the prisons,” stated the retired judge.

Recently, the Commission toured prisons in Shinyanga and Singida regions, where inmates blamed the police for framing cases against them.

In another display of dissatisfaction at conditions, about 20 death row inmates staged a hunger strike over poor diet and were reportedly living on dry bread and hot water.

According to a source at Ukonga prison, death row inmates and others serving long sentences are starving due to poor diet.

Last weekend, at least three inmates were admitted to the prison’s in-house medical centre, ‘Sick Bay’.

It has been further learnt that unnamed officials at the prison are associated with a plan to steal consignments of inmate food for later sale at unidentified points in the city.

Contacted for comment about the reported plight of Ukonga inmates last week, Home Affairs minister Lawrence Masha dismissed the reports as “mere propaganda”.

Omari Mtega, the Prisons Department spokesperson has, likewise, repeatedly dismissed the starvation claims as baseless. In yesterday’s interview, he described the claims as “mere fabrication”.

“This (claim of denying inmates access to toilet facilities) needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt… We have been telling you that theft of food and issues of death row inmates are just fabrications by your informer,” said Mtega.

The inmates at the centre of the reports complained that the food assigned to them was being routinely taken by prison officials to unknown destinations while they were being fed on ‘ugali’ and beans instead of their usual weekly diet of rice, vegetables, fruits, meat and bread.

There have been claims that, instead of attending to the complaints, prison officials keep threatening inmates with transfers to distant prisons like Isanga in Dodoma Region.

Recently, 12 out of twenty Ukonga Prison death row inmates who staged a recent hunger strike over poor food were moved to Isanga.

However, Mtega said any such transfers are routine and no inmate would be relocated for merely having taken part in a hunger strike.

He confirmed that the death row inmates in question were accommodated in ‘Condemned Wing’ but denied that they were subjected to unfair treatment.

There are reportedly a total of 286 inmates on death row in the country’s prisons.

The 2008 Human Rights Report issued by the Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre cited Tanzania as one of only 25 countries in the world that still retains the death penalty.


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