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Leeuwkop prisoner says officials gave him electric shocks in showers

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“You feel like you can die”

Photo of man in court
Mthokozisi Sithole, one of the inmates suing the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services for alleged assault and torture, testified in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday. Photo: Zoe Postman
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A Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre inmate told the Johannesburg High Court on Monday how prison officials used an electric shock shield on him in the shower and stepped on his neck while he was on the ground.

“You feel like you can die,” Mthokozisi Sithole told the court. Prison officials were acting “like they don’t think anything of you, like you are not a human being.”

Sithole is one of five inmates suing the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services for alleged assault and torture by prison officials.

Sithole was recalling an alleged incident on 10 August 2014 after one inmate, Xolani Zulu, jammed the cell door with a toothbrush, preventing prison officials from getting inside. Zulu was protesting against collective punishment after prison officials say they found a mobile phone and sim cards in the prisoners’ cell during a search.

Testifying at the trial, Sithole said that after the officials called a locksmith to open the door that Zulu had blocked, Sithole said, the inmates were instructed to come out of the cell in pairs.

He said Emergency Security Team (EST) members were surrounding the cell in a semi-circle.

“What amazed me is that EST is always called when there is violence but there was no violence so I don’t know why they were called,” said Sithole. “As I came out, EST hit me with a baton on my shoulder … We ended up not coming out in twos because they were assaulting us so we ran to lie down on the floor.”

He said the inmates kept telling officials that it was Zulu who blocked the door, not them.

Sithole’s name was then called from a list of people who were suspected of having phones. He said one of the officials slapped him and dragged him to an office by his collar. He said he was hit with a baton in the office, “and when you stretch out your hand to protect yourself, the [officials] will shock your hand and hit you with the baton.”

He said an official stepped on the prisoners’ necks when they were lying on the floor.

Sithole was then taken back to his cell in a search for the phone but he said the officials did not find anything.

“[The official] was very angry for not finding anything. He then said ‘let’s put him in the shower, he will tell us the truth’,” he said. He told the court that an official ripped his clothes off and took him to the showers. He said officials turned on the water and shocked him using an electric shock shield.

“The manner that they were shocking me was so hard … For them to stop shocking me in the shower, I told them that Pasha [another inmate] had the phone,” he said. He did this because Abel Pasha, another one of the plaintiffs in the case, was injured at the time so he thought the officials would not assault him, said Sithole.

But, he said, when Pasha denied having the phone, the officials said, “You are lying, why would [Sithole] choose you?”. Sithole said they proceeded to assault Pasha, who was wearing a sling at the time, on his injured arm.

The court case, which was initially set for 15 days but will be extended, started on 28 October. Judge Ellem Jacob Francis is presiding and the plaintiffs are represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). The trial continues on Tuesday.

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TOPICS:  Human Rights Prisons

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