Award for expos of prison horror

prisoner_sickHARARE - An SABC investigative television programme that exposed appalling human rights abuses in Zimbabwean prisons has won another top award.


The programme, Special Assignment won the Lorenzo Natali Prize last year for the Hell Hole documentary, and has now gone on to earn the Amnesty International Award for Human Rights, presented at the Commonwealth Broadcasters Association (CBA) Awards in Johannesburg.

Hell Hole was co-produced by South African Johann Abrahams and Zimbabwe-born Godknows Nare. Nare is a renowned freelance producer who spearheaded the three-month investigation into the Zimbabwean prison situation, which involved secret filming of inmates at Beitbridge prison.

The shocking footage shows sick and starving prisoners subsisting in squalor.

Initially, allegations of inhuman conditions at Zimbabwes 55 jails by former inmates and human rights groups were strongly denied by the authorities, and remained a mere rumour.

But when the footage was broadcast worldwide, it drew widespread criticism of Robert Mugabes regime and helped alert international humanitarian groups, who reacted swiftly by providing emergency food and medical assistance.

The government, which at first argued that the footage was bogus, finally conceded and allowed aid agencies and human rights groups to intervene. Charities such as Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and church groups, have since stepped in to assist with food, water and sanitation programmes, and others basic supplies.

Relating his ordeal after acquittal from a four week detention on treason charges in March 2009, deputy Agriculture Minister-designate Roy Bennett, described Zimbabwes prison conditions as harrowing and equated them to Nazi concentration camps.

In a report in August last year, MSF said a lot had improved since it intervened in Zimbabwean prisons in February 2009. MSF said the number of prisoners in its nutrition programme had been reduced dramatically, after it provided medical treatment and cured dozens of sick inmates.

We have installed water tanks, fixed plumbing and constructed latrines and wells. The prisons are generally much cleaner, although problems such as lice and rats still persist. The morale of the prisoners and prison officers has also improved, as has the relationship between the two, said MSF.

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