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Trampling on basic rights of prisoners

ELSEWHERE in this edition we carry a story in which the Lesotho Correctional Services Commissioner Mojalefa Thulo admits that some prisoners are being kept in shackles day and night.
Thulo said the eight men suspected of trying to assassinate Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and topple the government in April 2009 are being kept in chains because there is information some external elements might help them escape.
“There are allegations that there are some covert operations which are planned outside corrections set-up to set free the suspects in question by whatever means,” Thulo said.
He added that they “strongly anticipate the magnitude of the external force during that operation will out-compete the available resources in the correctional facilities.”
“In an effort to counteract or at least delay the planned operation it has been agreed that the said suspects be subjected to mechanical restraints even at night time”.
We find it unbelievable that the commissioner could find excuses to justify this inhuman treatment of prisoners.
It is sad that Thulo is seeking to use the weaknesses of his department to justify an act that is clearly cruel to inmates and violates their basic rights.
Put differently, Thulo is saying because he is not confident of the security at the prison he thinks keeping the inmates in chains is the only way he can ensure they don’t escape.
It is clear from his report that this has become a permanent tactic prison authorities use to deal with what they call “high profile inmates”.
Thulo is saying because his department has poor infrastructure, is short-staffed and its systems are weak it has no choice but to chain inmates.
According to his reasoning prisoners have to suffer in chains so he and his colleagues can have peace of mind.
Just how callous can a prison system be?
To deal with a security risk Thulo can ask for more men or support from other security forces.
There are many ways to secure a prison and the use of chains is not one of the best.
He must improve the security systems at the prison.
We strongly suspect that by using chains Thulo has opted for an easy and cheaper way out.
With the chains at his disposal the commissioner can postpone the implementation of proper security systems for as long as he wants.
That might save the government money but at the same time trample on the basic rights of prisoners.
In the report Thulo admits the prisons “have not been able to keep pace with the ever-increasing crime trends” yet he does not say what he is doing about the problem.
Is Thulo saying because nothing has been done to upgrade our prisons he would rather subject prisoners to torturous treatment?
We are also worried that Thulo has made the decision to shackle the inmates on the basis of an imagined crime that has not been committed.
By his own admission, he says “there are allegations”.
So here are prisoners being kept in irons not because they have shown a propensity to escape but because prison authorities have heard rumours that someone wants to help them escape.
We respect the commissioner but we think this time he has lost the plot by refusing to take responsibility for the weaknesses in his department.
Instead of dealing with the fundamental problems in the department Thulo has resorted to keeping his prisoners under punishing conditions.
What makes it even more galling is that these men have not been convicted by the courts.
They are still suspects waiting their day in court.
If they are treated in such a cruel manner while they are in remand then what happens when they have been convicted?
They will probably be chained for the rest of their sentences because the prison authorities suspect someone out there wants to help them escape.

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