No space, light or air and little food in Chikurubi

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The Independent Online

A tiny lice-infested room with no ventilation or light, the only lavatory provision a small bucket that goes uncollected for weeks or even months: this will be Simon Mann's home for the next seven years, at Chikurubi maximum security prison, President Robert Mugabe's notoriously filthy jail on the outskirts of Harare.

A tiny lice-infested room with no ventilation or light, the only lavatory provision a small bucket that goes uncollected for weeks or even months: this will be Simon Mann's home for the next seven years, at Chikurubi maximum security prison, President Robert Mugabe's notoriously filthy jail on the outskirts of Harare.

He will sleep on a concrete floor with no blankets and may be kept naked during his first years of imprisonment. "Perhaps the most squalid jail that humankind has invented," was how a former inmate described the Chikurubi jail in 2002.

Conditions can hardly have got better. With Zimbabwe's economy in freefall and inflation running at nearly 400 per cent, the government of Zimbabwe has no money to feed its citizens, let alone prisoners.

Sources say prisoners go without bread for weeks. In most cases they are restricted to one meal a day of porridge and overcooked vegetables.

Supplies of toothpaste, soap, lavatory paper and general laundry items have long since stopped. Inmates have to share the few blankets available, despite the needs of the many prisoners who suffer from Aids-related illnesses or suffer other diseases such as tuberculosis. Category A prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for most of the time and in leg irons.

Three apartheid-era South African saboteurs, Kevin Woods, Michael Smith and Philip Conjwayo, were classified in the same category as Mann after being convicted in 1988 for bombing African National Congress offices.

In a website devoted to their plight, the three say they spent the first five years of their sentences in solitary confinement, and were only allowed out of their cells for half an hour each morning and afternoon.

They were forced to spend one and a half years naked. Even during winter they had no clothing and blankets.

They spent 21 months without sunlight. They were only allowed to receive one letter a month and to write one single-page letter a month.

The prisoners were permitted a maximum of one visit from a family member per month and no physical contact was allowed. Visits lasted for just 15 minutes, with visitor and prisoner forced to communicate by telephone through a double-glazed barrier.

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