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The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi states in Section 42(1)(b) that “every person who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner, shall have the right to be detained under conditions consistent with human dignity, which shall include at least the provision of…adequate nutrition…”. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners Part 1: Article 20(1) also stipulates that “every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served”. In practice, however, most main prisons of Malawi provide monotonous meals of nsima and beans or pigeon peas to inmates once per day which is not a balanced diet nor does it cater for special cases such as sick inmates; lactating prisoners, and HIV positive inmates who require special diets. In 2007, the Constitutional Court of Malawi in the case of Gable Masangano (Suing on his own behalf of all Prisoners in Malawi) v. The Attorney General (Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security and the Commissioner of Prisons), Constitutional Case No. 15 of 2007, ordered that prison administrations of Malawi should serve prisoners two hot meals per day and that prisoners’ diets should become more diversified within the permissible options as prescribed in the regulations contained in the Prison Act (Cap 9:02 of the Laws of Malawi).

In the High Court

The Applicant, a previous inmate at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre and, living with the HIV virus, was imprisoned between August 2015, and May 2018, following his conviction and an eventual custodial sentence. The Applicant stated that he was in good health at the time he got admitted into Chichiri Prison in 2015. Four months later after this admission, he fell seriously ill and the Medical Personnel in charge of his health at Chichiri Prison Clinic and at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital noted his significant weight loss due to malnutrition. The Applicant further stated that he got fed the monotonous meal of nsima made from maize flour and beans or pigeon peas once every day during the duration of his sentence and sometimes never had this meal at all on some days due to the Prison’s running out of stocks on food supplies.

The Applicant argued that the Chichiri Prison Administration’s failure to provide an adequate, varied, and nutritious diet to him had grossly infringed the Applicant’s right to food, to life, freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and to be detained in conditions consistent with human dignity, which include at least the right to be provided with adequate, varied, and nutritious food at the expense of the Government and Prison Administrations. The Applicant emphasised that this obligation was placed on them pursuant to Section 42(1)(b) of the Constitution of Malawi, to which the Defendants clearly did not adhere.

The Applicant seeks several declaratory orders from the High Court of Malawi Court regarding the infringement of his rights. The Applicant also claims for compensation to be assessed by the Court for the violation of his rights pursuant to Section 46(4) of the Constitution of Malawi.

The case has been filed with the High Court of Malawi (Zomba Registry) and a date of hearing is yet to be given.

Chikondi Chijozi of SALC is representing the Applicant with support from the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)