Zimbabwe is a Hell Hole' for prisoners

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Johannesburg (South Africa), Apr 1: A horrifying investigative film has exposed how prisoners in President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe are dying from either disease or hunger.

The documentary, shown on Tuesday, Mar 31 in  South Africa's state broadcaster SABC, documented the 'living hell' for prisoners across 55 state institutions.

'Hell Hole', as the film is titled, is a grim account of a crisis in which dozens of inmates die each day, reports The Times.

Describing the conditions in two of the main prisons in the capital, Harare, in late 2008, a prison officer said: "We have gone the whole year in which - for prisoners and prison officers - the food is hand-to-mouth. They'll be lucky to get one meal. Sometimes they will sleep without. We have moving skeletons, moving graves. They're dying."

The film was made by SABC's Special Assignment programme and shot over three months with cameras smuggled into the prisons.

The reaction in South Africa, where the authorities try to deny the extent of the crisis in its neighbouring country, is certain to be fierce.

The film shows how prison staff have converted cells and storage rooms into 'hospital wards' for the dying and makeshift mortuaries, where bodies "rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around".

They have had to create mass graves within prison grounds to accommodate the dead.

Prisoners described how the sick and the healthy slept side by side, packed together like sardines, along with those who died in the night.

Prisoners in the film are suffering from slow starvation, nutrition-related illnesses and an array of other diseases to which they are exposed as a result of living in unhygienic conditions.

A former prisoner, a young man, struggled to convey the horror of these conditions: "That place, I haven't got the words ... I can describe it as hell on earth - though they say it's more than hell."

In October last year the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) released a report noting that there were 55 prisons in Zimbabwe, with the capacity to hold 17,000 inmates.

But in October 2008 it was estimated that more than 35,000 people were in jail.

ANI

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