Ibrahim Bendu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 June 2020:
Reporters from over ten of Sierra Leone’s leading registered newspapers have confirmed that even as corona virus is spreading inside the Freetown prisons among prisoners, the authorities in Sierra Leone have left the prisoners without adequate water supply for the past ten days.
What is even more shocking, according to their findings is that prisoners are now forced to urinate and defecate inside cell toilets that are already full of un-flushed urine and faeces, then forced to sleep in those cells without fresh air.
Furthermore, investigations show that prisoners have been unable to take daily baths, let alone follow coronavirus precautions of regular washing of hands.
Prisoners cannot wash their hands, nor is there enough water for the prison wardens to wash theirs.
According to the report, the situation is a potential timebomb for a massive spread of coronavirus inside those prisons.
The investigations confirmed that at least 30 prisoners have been infected with coronavirus, caught behind bars at the Pademba Road prisons in Freetown.
All 30 infected prisoners became sick after the authorities remanded an alleged thief at the prison without bail.
The male prisoner who has been identified as corona case 90, went on to infect prisoners with whom he came into contact inside the prisons as he was himself already infected before his arrest. The jail yard now has infected prisoners passing the virus to one another.
Few weeks ago, a total of nineteen prisoners had the virus and then just last week, a further eleven prisoners also tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of coronavirus prisoners to 30. Some are said to have recovered but many prisoners are now admitted at a temporary Isolation Treatment Centre built inside the prisons.
It is in the midst of such an unprecedented virus outbreak behind prison bars that Government has left Pademba Road prison without adequate water supply.
Even during the Ebola virus crisis, the Government back then ensured adequate water supply and also took steps to ensure not a single prisoner got infected with the virus.
Many citizens with loved ones inside the prisons, especially the innocent persons denied bail, are concerned at the lack of water for bathing, washing hands and flushing toilets inside cells.
“In this day and age, prisoners being made to sleep in cells with unflushed urine and faeces for several days is an outrage!!” said Mr. Michael Ibrahim Kallon who lamented that his elder sister is now denied bail and in the Prisons.
When a journalist contacted the prisons, the Regional Commander for the Pademba Road Prisons, Mr. Turay initially said that he was in a meeting. He requested to be called after one hour for comment. After an hour, he was called but he did not respond to the call. All efforts have been made to reach him but all remained futile
However, the Public Relations Officer for the prisons, Mr. Cole-Showers later spoke to the investigative Journalists on the issues. He said the prison’s water bowser is faulty. It is very old and as a result spends most of its time at the garage.
Cole-Showers also stated that in August 2019 they reconnected pipe borne water into their correction facilities in Freetown. They have been cut off from the Guma Valley direct water supply. They spent close to two Hundred Million Leones (Le 200,000,000.00) to get that done.
The Guma Valley Water Company supplied water for about two months and withdrew supply. When the Company was approached on the matter, Guma said prisons should pay more money before opening their pipes. Prisons did not have enough funds, so they could not oblige. They reverted to sending the water bowser to hydrants to fetch water for distribution to different prison facilities in Freetown.
Cole- showers said that there is a bore-hole in the Female correctional center which can be used for laundering, bathing and cooking. But the independent investigations show this is not at all true.
According to the investigations, since the bowser broke down, the situation of urine and faeces stench has worsened at the female prison.
Responding to the Covid-19 saga, the prisons public relations officer (PRO) revealed in his own words “Yes we have Covid-19 in the Male Correctional Center, former special court. In total, since we had that index case, we have had 30 cases. 18 have recovered so far. Presently, those in the treatment center are 12. The situation is under control, we have medical specialists from the EOC who are working tirelessly with our medical team to ensure that the situation does not get worse.”
It is in these appallingly dire conditions that the government of Sierra Leone is holding Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and several other opposition politicians on detention.
Dr Blyden herself has been charged with seditious libel after expressing outrage about the inhumane conditions a prisoner is made to sleep for days, in a cell full of the stench of urine and faeces.
Dr. Sylvia Blyden is a journalist and human rights activist, with aspiration to contest presidential election in Sierra Leone.
Today, she will appear in court again for the third time, on seven counts of Libel, of which three concerns the expressed outrage over condition of detention of a prisoner. The remaining four counts are alleged libel of the current president.
The investigation of this serious development of prisoners without water as Corona virus spreads in the prisons was under taken by reporters from over ten newspapers including Awareness Times, The Times, Focus 24/7, Night Watch, For Di People, City Voice, Sierra Express Media, The Senator Newspaper, Voice of Salone, Standard Times, Satellite, Prime Times, Executive Premier Media, Calabash Newspaper and Forum News Papers.
Water shortage is a serious problem not only in Sierra Leone but most African countries. The major problem in Sierra Leone is more related to the infrastructural damage to the Guma Valley Water Company, just before and during the civil war. I believe that apart from the increase in the size of the population in Freetown, the distribution mechanism especially pipelines should be rebuilt all around the city by awarding the contract to China or Japan rather than spending money on a new Airport, when we already have one that is under utilized.
With regards to the water and toilet facilities at the Pademba Road Prison, I can categorically state that even the police and prison official barracks are still using the bucket toilet system that was established by the British during colonial times. Most Sierra Leoneans should stop pretending that flush toilets is not luxury in our country and during the dry season most people usually face challenges. I hope the New Direction government will continue to focus on refurbishing both the water and electricity sectors, which will help our nation in the Human Capital Development Index.
When you hear about government institutions working, this is what its all about. Generally, majority of people held in our prisons are either awaiting trial, or people convicted of criminal offences, serving time. In vast majority of cases people are awaiting to be charged. It is the work of the justice ministry to work with the police and the prison service to speed up cases. Those that have cases to answer should be charged and given the opportunity to have their day in court. You cannot reduce the prison population at a manageable level, by just rounding up people on flimsy excuses, and throw them into crowded cells.
Some people have been on remand for years, not knowing why they are there in the first place. There are young people in there for stealing things like mobile phones or watches. I am not in any way defending these young men and women, but the punishment should fit the crime. It cannot be right to put them in cell rooms with people who commit more serious offences like murders or rape. The government of president Bio, should set up a commission, whereby minor offences are heard, and punishable by community service. These offenders should do the last Saturday of the month clean up our towns and cities in return for their freedom. With the recent riots at Pademba Road prison, in which some of the buildings were destroyed , it became more urgent because there is not enough space, the way our police are carrying on.
Or they could do us all a favour and build a giant warehouse, called the Sierra Leone police Facebook postings detention centre. There is not enough space to hold people. Free those that don’t have any case to answer. With COVID19, it is recipe for disaster. Whenever these people are let out, the corona virus will spike in the general population. That’s another way of fighting the pandemic. We are all in this together.
This is what savage, callous GESTAPO rule looks like; Wickedness in its worst authoritarian forms…all of you sitting, staring and nibbling on your fingers in fear while others quietly suffer in agony; those cheer-leading and applauding injustice, and others as quiet as mice – your day will surely come when you will moan, groan and mourn; when you will be whisked away in the darkest tinted Police car like leaves swirling, twirling and whirling in a violent storm, so shall it be with thee and thine hardhearted brethren. For thou art a coward without a spine, who has brazenly said for all to hear; “Whatsoever happens to others is none of my concern; I will save only my skin..I will rub myself with aloes, jasmine,and the sweetest perfumes, for I was gifted with this beautiful body of mine, and I have only one life to live”.
Water is life – Be merciful! Give water to your thirsty brothers and sisters languishing in Pademba road Prisons. FREE THEM ALL – Dr Blyden, Paolo Conteh, Mr Williams, and other innocent citizens.
This is appalling. No water in a prison terrible. We all need water to survive and carry out daily activities and bodily functions. Why can’t they dig bore holes for water? At least that is better than nothing.
President Bio, you sleep in comfortable surroundings daily for now. Why should Dr Sylvia Blyden be kept in that prison under such disgusting conditions? You should use your office and get her bailed asap, to prevent her further discomfort.