Prison officers arrested for filming shock prison footage
By Alex Bell
06 April 2009
Three prison officers have been arrested on allegations of helping to film a South African television documentary exposing the horrendous conditions inside Zimbabwe’s prisons.
A senior police officer in Beitbridge was quoted Sunday in the Standard newspaper as saying that warders Thabiso Nyathi, Siyai Muchechedzi and Thembinkosi Nkomo were arrested last Friday. They face charges under the Official Secrets Act, which prescribes lengthy jail terms for government employees who leak ‘state secrets’.
The three were arrested despite vehement denials by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa that the footage was filmed in Zimbabwe. Chinamasa last week accused the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) who screened the film last Tuesday, of fabricating the story. He also insisted the footage was taken at other prisons in Africa. The film’s executive producer, Johann Abrahams last week denied Chinamasa’s accusations, and explained the footage is absolutely factual. He told SW Radio Africa that there is proof and extensive footage showing the visuals were in fact filmed in Zimbabwe.
The documentary titled ‘Hell Hole’ has sparked international outrage from human rights defenders. The film showed scores of skeletal prisoners dressed in rags and dying of malnutrition and disease in filthy institutions without food, medication or basic cleaning materials. The SABC team behind the film had provided sympathetic prison warders with secret cameras to film the conditions in Khami, Beitbridge and Harare Remand prisons.
The shock film provides visual proof of the horror inside Zimbabwe’s jails, which previously has been detailed by thousands of MDC supporters and innocent Zimbabweans who have been arrested and suffered the conditions for themselves.
SABC officials meanwhile on Monday said the confidentiality of their prison sources that help obtain footage for the film was not compromised, and said in a statement that the arrests were made ‘in error’. The statement follows complaints that the SABC did not do enough to protect the prison officials, despite knowing the risks in filming the conditions usually kept a closely guarded secret.
The film is set to be re-broadcast in South Africa on Tuesday night, after what the SABC has called “overwhelming public response and international coverage of the story.”