FIJI JUDGE RELEASES SUSPECTS OVER PRISON CONDITIONS

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By Harold Koi & Cheerieann Wilson

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Oct. 20) - A Fiji High Court judge yesterday denounced the conditions of remand prisoners at Korovou jail in Suva, prompting him to release two robbery suspects being held pending trial.

Justice Gerard Winter told of conditions in which three men were locked in a leaking and wet cell for up to 23 hours a day with a single bucket for a toilet.

The poor conditions prompted Justice Winter to grant bail to two men accused of robbery with violence. Leone Vakarusaqoli and Kelemedi Dreu were granted bail with strict conditions.

Justice Winter, in his ruling, said the allegations against the two were serious and Justice Nazhat Shameem had refused a bail application by Dreu in August.

The two renewed their bail application before Justice Winter in writing and orally.

"The two claimed that they lived in very poor conditions and they were so poor that their physical and mental health would be affected by a further remand in custody," Justice Winter said.

He said the allegations were of great concern and it was not the first time he had heard of the complaints at Korovou Prison.

"I have at least three constitutional redress applications before me seeking to challenge the inhumane conditions of incarceration at Korovou," the High Court Judge said.

He requested help from the Human Rights Commission and a commissioner accepted the appointment.

Justice Winter also carried out his own investigation and found that Dreu was locked with two other prisoners in a very congested room not much bigger than an average household room. These three were only let out for a shower and meals for a matter of minutes every day.

Dreu showed Justice Winter pustule-like rashes on his skin and it appeared that this was caused by his close confinement in a filthy cell. There was only one window situated high up on the wall, the cell was damp and the High Court judge was advised that when it rained the cell was wet. The only bucket used by the three for toilet gave out a very bad odor and there was no privacy.

Vakarusaqoli’s cell was similar and he had been there for three months. The Human Rights Commissioner found that the conditions and confinement of these applicants did not comply with the minimum standards and rules for the treatment of prisoners. It breached the applicants’ rights as detained persons to be treated with dignity and respect.

Justice Winter said the party that accompanied him were all astounded at the degrading and inhumane conditions. Their rights under the Constitution were violated, he said, adding that the prison failed in almost every standard and the prisoners lived in an unsound and leaky building that had already been condemned.

Commissioner of Prisons Aisea Taoka said last night that bail was for judges to decide but the conditions of inmates and those on remand were what the Government could offer. Justice Winter granted bail after taking into consideration the risk of re-offending but had balanced those risks against the shocking attack upon their rights and the deprivations they had suffered.

October 21, 2004

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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