BLANTYRE--At least five inmates at Zomba Central Prison in the eastern city of Zomba broke free from the penitentiary early Monday in a jailbreak protesting the pardoning of two prisoners by President Joyce Banda.
Eastern Region Police spokesman Thomeck Nyaude told MaraPost three of the escapees have since been recaptured.
"The prison services and us (the police) are currently on a man-hunt for the remaining two," he said. "The three are currently in police custody, we will take them to court for fleeing lawful custody."
Nyaude said the five were serving lengthy sentences for sex crimes and armed robbery.
Tensions are still high at the prison as inmates are still protesting the pardoning of a convict doing time for sex crimes and another for murder, both serious crimes in Malawi and therefore ineligible for presidential pardon.
As part of commemorations marking 48 years of independence from Great Britain, President Banda Friday pardoned 377 prisoners. She, however, said she rejected 11 recommended names because they were doing time for sex crimes.
"I rejected 11 recommended names because they were defilers and rapists," she said. "One of them has serious liver problem but we will bury him if need be because he knowingly doomed the future of young girl whom he raped repeatedly."
In Malawi although presidential prison pardons are a tradition on Independence or Christmas days, only prisoners doing time for lesser crimes, have completed two-thirds of the sentences and have shown good behaviour, are accorded the privilege. If an inmate is terminally ill they may be considered for pardon.
So when names of the 34 names the President pardoned from Zomba Central Prisoner included a sex crimes convict and a murderer the inmates rioted and forcibly took them two back to their cells. Paramilitary police freed the duo after a scuffle with the protesters where three inmates were arrested.
The inmates sang protest songs throughout the night vowing to free themselves. They made good their threat by organising a dawn jailbreak.
Sources say at least 30 inmates attempted to flew but most were beat back to their cells. At least 20 of them were injured, one of them seriously, according to sources privy to the operation.
"Police, who helped us guard the facility, had to open fire to stop the jail-break," a prison warder said on condition of anonymity. "Three of the five who managed to get out of the high fence were caught near the prison but two managed to escape."
Residents of the old picturesque colonial capital were awakened sound of gunfire.
"I was coming from studies when I heard phah! phah! phah!," said a student at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi. "It was quite scary."
Malawi Prison Service spokesman Evance Phiri said calm has returned to the facility.
"We are investigating how it all happened," he said.
Large-scale scale jailbreaks are rare in Malawi and jailbreaks in protest of a presidential pardon are even rarer.
Chancellor College Associate Professor at Law Edge Kanyongolo, who did a study in how prisoner pardons are conducted, said the system is open to abuse.
"Our system of pardon is open to abuse," he told MaraPost "The criteria they use lacks clarity."
The pardons committee normally comprises Chief Commissioner of Prisons, Attorney General, a police officer, a lawyer and a physician but any other officer can be appointed to it. Attorney General Ralph Kasambara is the one that presented the list of those to be pardoned to President Banda, according to Presidential Press Secretary Steve Nhlane.
Nhlane said President Banda wasn’t aware that the list had names of prisoners with serious crimes.
"The list comprises names of those to be pardoned, crimes they were convicted for and why they must bepardoned," Nhlane said Sunday night. "The President was emphatic that she would not pardon defilers and rapists. She was therefore not aware that some on the list were rapists, a different crime must have been inserted for them because she put her foot down on defilers and rapists."
Malawi's 23 prisons are overcrowded. Statistics show that the country’s prisons, with a capacity of only 5, 500 inmates, currently hold more than 12 000 convicts.
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment.