Cape Argus (Cape Town)

15 February 2009

South Africa: Local Woman in Hospital After Prison Beating

The South African government has requested a full report on an incident in a Mauritian jail where a South African woman was apparently stripped naked and badly beaten by a notorious security squad.

She was admitted to hospital two days after the incident, after her aunt begged embassy staff to check up on her.

Janette Noluvuyo Ntamo, 33, and another woman were allegedly beaten up on Monday by the Maurituan Prison Security Squad at the Beau Bassin Women's Prison. In 2002 the United Nations recommended the squad should be disbanded.

The department of foreign affairs has put in a formal request for an explanation from the Mauritian government.

Ntamo, who comes from East London, is one of 28 South Africans being held in Mauritius prisons for drug smuggling.

South Africa is one of the few countries who will not allow their citizens to serve out their sentences in their home countries.

Arrested people can wait up to four years behind bars before being sentenced.

Ntamo has been trying to get the Mauritian courts to pass judgment on her and this apparently led to her being beaten.

Ntamo's beating came to light when other prisoners and Ntamo frantically SMSed their families for help.

In an SMS Ntamo said she and the other woman had been handcuffed, stripped of their clothes and beaten with batons and kicked by about 10 men.

They were then allegedly forced into a cell, still naked and without a mattress.

She said that even though she was bruised and could not move her arm she was refused medical attention.

Ntamo's aunt Monica Gunyazile called the South African embassy on Tuesday begging them to check up on her niece, but said they only went to see her two days later.

Gunyazile said Ntamo was arrested in a sting operation four years ago.

Ntamo had come to Cape Town to look for work and had befriended a man who sent her to Mauritius.

Once there she apparently accepted a couriered package from the friend who had sent her there.

The man had put drugs in the package and as she signed for the package the police pounced and arrested her.

Her case was heard in July last year but judgment has still not been passed.

In a letter to Gunyazile from Steve Kruis, a deputy director with consular services said they were waiting for a report from the Mauritian authorities following a formal request.

Mauritian Human Rights lawyer Jean Claude Bibi has taken on Ntamo's case and is in contact with South African embassy staff on the matter.

He has urged the embassy to file a formal complaint with the Island's National Human Rights Commission.

"I am informed by the South Africa embassy that it proposes to raise the matter at very high level with the Mauritian government and on Thursday the embassy was still discussing the matter with the South African authorities in Pretoria," Bibi said via e-mail on Friday.

Bibi said: "Mauritian and foreign prisoners alike, in my view, are far too often unlawfully and grievously beaten by members of the prison security squad.

"The central problem is that the Mauritian authorities have repeatedly shown their incapacity and or unwillingness to prevent and repress the unlawful acts of prison officers who feel they enjoy a large degree of impunity.

"These prison officers are not disciplined nor prosecuted for their inhuman and unlawful acts," Bibi said.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa referred the Weekend Argus to a colleague, whose phone remained switched off on Saturday.

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