Leeuwkop Max C: Inmates claim abuse and torture, turn to courts for relief
Carolyn Raphaely is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project (WJP) which investigates miscarriages of justice related to the criminal justice system. The WJP is a project of the University of the Witwatersrand’s department of journalism.
About 20 other inmates also claimed to have been assaulted and tortured by warders and members of the Emergency Security Team using electric shock devices. Smith’s injuries were confirmed by private practitioner Dr Ferrat Khan and injuries to four other seriously injured inmates corroborated by Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) Dr Sindi Van Zyl, who examined them at Leeuwkop last Friday.
According to Malanie, “six inmates – including my husband – were taken separately to the showers and repeatedly shocked with “boards” or electric shock shields. They were made to squat and after each shock, the warders put their fingers up their anus’ to search for contraband. Llewellyn told me he was the second last to go into the showers. He said the shower floors were full of faeces which must have been from the other guys who were taken there before him…When you are shocked it makes you defecate….”
Van Zyl said her examination of the inmates left her “absolutely shocked” at the brutality of the beatings and the resulting injuries she witnessed. “The four inmates I examined were all badly beaten but the injuries on two of them indicated they had been severely assaulted, viciously attacked and seriously injured. One of them had bad burn-marks on his back consistent with electric shock. I found contusions, burn marks, bruising, lacerations and swellings on all of them.”
After Malanie received messages from three unknown women – wives of her husband’s cellmates – informing her that her husband had been severely beaten, that he was in a critical condition and required urgent medical attention, she rushed to the prison fearing for his life.
Though twice refused permission to see her husband by Leeuwkop Max Correctional Centre head Kgwadu Mohale, in the presence of two of her relatives Mohale showed her a list of about 31 names of inmates assaulted by warders. Smith, who married her husband two years ago in a ceremony behind bars in Bloemfontein’s Mangaung prison, then contacted the Wits Justice Project which subsequently helped her secure pro bono legal representation.
Though Malanie’s application failed on procedural grounds largely because it was framed by a lay-person, a further urgent application brought the following day by Werksmans attorney Louise Bick and Advocate Melanie Feinstein heard by Judge Mahendra Chetty, was successful.
Yet eleven days after sustaining his injuries – in spite of suspected fractures, a referral from a private doctor, several letters from Bick and a court order, Mohale still refused to send Smith for x-rays. “The department insists Smith pay more than R3,500 for hospital transport and security costs,” noted Bick. “There’s absolutely no legal basis for a prisoner to be held liable for these costs and the delays could result in further medical complications. Mohale’s blatant obstruction of access to adequate medical attention which is intentionally causing Smith severe physical and mental suffering constitutes torture in terms of the Torture Act.”
The reason for the assaults and torture? In an affidavit submitted to the court, Smith explained that during a previous search a few days earlier a cell phone was found in her husband’s cell. As a result, a number of inmates were assaulted and beaten. Three days later, after a request to discuss their grievances with the Area Commissioner was unmet, the inmates jammed their cell door and prevented warders entering for fear of further attacks.
“My husband was the one who eventually unlocked the door as he said he did not want to get into trouble,” Smith explained in an affidavit submitted to the court. “The warders already warned them that they are (sic) going to beat them and charge all of them. As he (Llewellyn) opened the door, they were immediately attacked, beaten and taken into the showers where they were stripped and shocked with electro shock devices.”
Smith allegedly passed out during the course of these assaults. When he came to lying on the floor, he discovered that the other four badly injured offenders had been placed in segregated, or solitary, confinement where they remain eleven days later.
“It is permissible to segregate inmates for seven days,” says Clare Ballard of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), now representing the men. “This period may only be extended by the Head of the Correctional Centre if he has obtained permission for the extension, of up to 30 days, from the National Commissioner, and specific conditions are met. These include daily visits from the Head of Centre and a visit by a psychologist or medical practitioner at least once a day to ensure the ongoing segregation won’t be detrimental to the inmate’s health.”
According to Mohale, the men played “a key role in instigating and inciting inmates to participate in activities jeopardising the prison’s security and cell phones were found in their possession.” They have not yet been afforded an opportunity to respond to these allegations.
Meantime, while a number of inmates – including Smith – are apparently refusing to take pain medication provided by DJCS for fear of being poisoned, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services’ Inspecting Judge Vuka Tshabala who is permitted to order the inmates’ release has been informed, as has The SA Human Rights Commission. Smith has also laid charges against the warders and Department of Justice and Correctional Services (DJCS) with the Sandton SAPS. DM
*Comment on this story was requested from the DJCS but no response had been received at the time of going to press.