South African inmates were routinely beaten, court hears

PORT ELIZABETH (AFP) - Inmates from a maximum security prison in South Africa told a court of brutal torture and beatings Friday, in a test case for new torture laws.

The department of prisons is being sued by inmates for almost US$100,000 (S$125,000) for abuses alleged to have occurred in 2005, while they were serving time at St Albans Maximum Security Prison, near the city of Port Elizabeth.

According to court documents, routine mistreatment - which included electric shocks - started after a senior official, Babini Nqakula, was stabbed to death inside the prison.

The prisoners were suspected of killing Nqakula, a relative of the former safety and security minister Charles Nqakula.

Some of the 231 inmates bringing the case claim to have been forced by guards to strip naked and lie on the floor in a human chain, with their noses touching the anus of the inmate in front.

Ahmed Patel, one of four prisoners called to testify in court, said that he had to clean blood and faeces strewn all over the maximum security section after a round of beatings during a lockdown.

"The inmates were crying like pigs," he said.

"The treatment was so inhuman. I saw warders' uniforms covered in blood, and they were drunk, hitting the shit out of prisoners."

Inmates claim they were mistreated in a "revenge" attack by prison officials, and complain that disciplinary charges against the guards involved were withdrawn.

They also claim they were denied medical treatment after suffering injuries.

Abuse of prisoners is rampant in South Africa's notoriously over crowded prisons.

In July, the government passed the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Prison Act, making torture a crime.

"What we have in the High Court now is a test case of four inmates," said their lawyer Oswald Egon.

"They are claiming financial compensation for physical and psychological injury."

The case has been dragging through the court since 2005, but is expected to end next month.

Egon said he was confident that the case was going well, despite the delays.

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