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Two-year old toddler in solitary confinement in a Zimbabwe prison

Update: According to the Associated Press Nigel Mutemagau was released on January 14, but his parents remain in prison.

Two year old Nigel Mutemagau (previously identified as Nigel Mupfuranhehwe, but that is his mother's maiden surname) is being kept in solitary confinement in Zimbabwe’s most notorious prison, the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Nigel was abducted together with his mother and father nearly three months ago by Zimbabwe's secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and their whereabouts were unknown until 24 December 2008 when they appeared in court in Harare, together with Jestina Mukoko and other abducted activists.

Nigel's parents are facing charges of recruiting “bandits” to topple Robert Mugabe’s government, the same charges Jestina Mukoko is facing. These allegations have been widely dismissed as baseless. Recently the South African president, who is also the Chairman of SADC, said of the allegations, “We never believed that.”

Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, where two year old Nigel is being kept in solitary confinement, is notorious for its atrocious conditions even during Zimbabwe’s better days. Now however, the conditions are much worse. Prison authorities do not have enough food to feed the inmates. They are struggling to make ends meet, much like the rest of Zimbabwe’s public sector. Against this background, the prison authorities say that they have been given instructions not to allow food to be brought to the inmates (including to children) from the outside. No visits from relatives are allowed for these particular prisoners, including for 2 year old Nigel. Even lawyers struggle to gain access and when they do, there is always a state official present.

More disturbing, however, are reports from lawyers that Nigel has been beaten in prison to get his mother to confess to the charges. The lawyers say the child needs medical attention.

In a press release also published on the This Is Zimbabwe blog, the same lawyers give a detailed timeline of the events surrounding their efforts to get the abductees released. These efforts have so far been in vain. In that timeline, the date 30 December 2008 says:

In the afternoon, lawyers attend at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison with the medical team. They find that their clients are not being held as ordered in the Prison Hospital, but are being kept in solitary confinement in the Maximum Security Prison. They have now been joined by the final confirmed abductee, Violet Mupfuranhehwe and her son, two-year-old Nigel Mutemagau, who are now also to be held in solitary confinement at the Maximum Security Prison.

Nigel’s plight has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and attention is focused very much on Jestina Mukoko, the most famous of the jailed activists. Social media has been especially active on the case of Jestina Mukoko, with most Zimbabwean blogs putting up a badge during her disappearance, providing phone numbers where people could call in and give any information on her whereabouts. Several Facebook groups calling for her release have also been created (the most popular of which currently has 2,242 members). Sokwanele has been especially active in encouraging readers to phone Jestina’s local police station to ask them what they were doing about finding her.

Nigel’s plight, however, has been largely a footnote. In my blog, I wrote:

A boy just like the sweet little kid above is imprisoned right now in one of Zimbabwe's most brutal and notorious prisons. [...]

Imprisoning a two year old in a maximum security prison together with murderers and rapists and some of the worst kinds of people on earth boggles the mind. I do not know how the government of Robert Mugabe is justifying this cruelity to itself, but I am more shocked at our own reaction, our silence and complicity in all this.

Where is our sense of outrage, Zimbabwe? Where is our humanity? In all the hundreds of thousands of column inches written about the Jestina Mukoko abduction and trial, this toddler is but a footnote in only a handful of them. He lies there on the cold floor of one Zimbabwe's most notorious prisons every day and night, forgotten by a world that is screaming very loudly for a 50 plus year old woman (Jestina) to be freed.

As a result, I have started a petition on my own blog to be handed over to the Attorney General of Zimbabwe on Friday this week, calling for the child to be released and for him to get medical attention as well as access to Child Welfare agents.

In the post with the petition I state:

I ask that we at least do something: Please leave your name in the comments section of this article (below). Just your name. We will put all the names together and present them to Mr Tomana, the Attorney General of Zimbabwe, asking that the child be given access to Child Welfare agents immeditely and freed from that prison.

I have also posted an alert on Facebook, where the Zimbabwean community (especially those outside the country) is especially active. I am hopeful. There is no justification whatsoever for keeping a child that young in jail, let alone in solitary confinement. The idea is basically to publicise the plight of this helpless child so much that the authorities will be shamed into action.

The Attorney General of Zimbabwe has the power to get the child released. Even if the release is attached to stringent bail conditions for the mother, it is better than leaving the toddler where he is now. Like I said, I am hopeful. There are other influential political players in Zimbabwe who have started to also take note of this and I am sure come Friday, we may well see some progress.

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