South African prisoners sue G4S over torture claims

British law firm acts for inmates alleging they were given electric shocks, forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs and held in isolation cells for up to three years

A group of South African prisoners are suing G4S over abuse they allege they suffered in a Bloemfontein prison run by the British security company.

British law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the 43 prisoners, sent an urgent letter to the company’s UK headquarters in Crawley on Thursday.

The inmates claim they were given electric shocks, forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs and held in isolation cells for up to three years. The firm is also acting for the mother of an inmate who died in custody.

“The instructions we have received from our clients attest to a culture of abuse and fear that appears to have been endemic in Mangaung Correctional Centre for years,” the letter to G4S reads. “Many allegations involve inmates being taken to solitary cells where there are no cameras, stripped naked and forced on to a metal bed with water thrown on them before being repeatedly shocked with electric shields, including to the head and genitals.”

If the claim is successful, it will be a landmark case for prisoners held by the biggest security provider in the world, with revenues worth £7.4bn. G4S won a 25-year R15bn (about £820m) contract from the South African government to construct, run and manage the prison in 2000.

Leigh Day has asked G4S to respond to the claim within three months and it is expected to go to the high court in London later this year.

In October 2013, the Wits Justice Project exposed allegations that so-called emergency security team warders routinely assaulted inmates. Prisoners, warders and other sources have claimed that the EST, also known as the Ninjas, would kick and punch the inmates and shock them with electric shields, after dousing them with water.

Leaked video footage shot inside the prison apparently showed an inmate with no record of mental illness being forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs. Twelve of Leigh Day’s clients claim they were forcibly injected.

This violence at Mangaung prison was exacerbated by the dismissal of about 330 warders in September 2013 after a lengthy strike. When the situation in the jail descended into chaos, the government’s department of correctional services took control of the prison. In August last year, G4S was handed back control of the prison. A government investigation into the alleged abuse has been finalised but not yet released.

Leigh Day attorney Tessa Gregory said:

“This is not the first time that G4S and its subsidiaries, operating across the globe, have faced accusations of human rights abuses. It is important that companies, even those as large as G4S, understand that there will be consequences if they do not respect the human rights of those they are paid to provide security to.”

G4S has denied the allegations. A spokesman said:

“G4S insists on the highest standards of care and we do not tolerate the mistreatment of prisoners. When these allegations arose in 2013 the department for correctional services investigated the claims and returned the operation of the facility to us on 1 August 2014, having not presented any evidence to substantiate the accusations.”

First published in The Guardian. Read the original article

Ruth Hopkins

Ruth is an award-winning investigative reporter who writes about human rights and criminal justice issues. Her latest book, Misery Merchants, Life and Death in a Private South African Prison was published in February 2020. Learn more about Ruth.