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Prisoners sue Govt over internet use for studies

Written by on July 3, 2024

Eighteen inmates suing the prison authorities over a decision to end their internet access are awaiting a judgement in their case at the end of next week.

The inmates filed an urgent application against the minister of home affairs, immigration, safety and security, Albert Kawana, Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) commissioner general Raphael Hamunyela and three NCS officials at the Windhoek High Court in March in an attempt to have their access to the internet and online study facilities restored.

Judge Herman Oosthuizen on Friday last week postponed the judgement on their application to 12 July.

The 18 applicants in the matter are asking the court to review and set aside a decision that they would not be allowed to continue to use their own laptops and Wi-Fi devices while pursuing online studies.

They also want the court to review and set aside an NCS official’s decision to remove school desks and chairs that they used in Windhoek Correctional Facility for study purposes.

The prisoners have informed the court that they successfully registered for the 2024 academic year, with the assistance and approval of the NCS, in February this year.

They have also stated that their only means of studying is online, and that it is essential that they have access to the internet and computer devices needed to access the internet.

The prisoners are alleging that the head of education services at Windhoek Correctional Facility on 6 February first removed their laptops and then also took away the Wi-Fi devices they used as part of their studies.

The inmates state they had no other choice than to hand over the items.

The first of the applicants in the case, Rodney Shaningua, said in a sworn statement filed at the court: “This summary decision left us shocked and dumbfounded, especially given the fact that these internet pocket Wi-Fi devices were given to us by our academic institutions for online study purposes, seeing that our studies have completely been migrated to online study mode, and because these pocket Wi-Fi devices, at all times, have been collected from the institutions by the correctional services.”

Raphael Hamunyela

According to Shaningua, the affected inmates were told they would instead have to rely on the NCS’ own internet network, which he claimed is “hopelessly unreliable, ineffective, and can even go for days and weeks without connectivity”.

Shaningua also alleged that the prison authorities’ decision to restrict his and the other applicants’ access to the internet was a reaction to demands made by detained accused in the Fishrot fraud, corruption and racketeering case, who he said have threatened to take legal action if they were not allowed to have Wi-Fi devices and use Gmail addresses.

Shaningua, who told the court he is a final-year law student, said he and the other applicants in the matter were not given an opportunity to be heard before the prison authorities made the decision to restrict their access to the internet.

In court documents, the government responded by saying the decision of the officer in charge to remove the internet dongles was done in the lawful exercise of powers vested in him by the Correctional Service Act of 2012.

Hamunyela said in an answering affidavit that the use of pocket Wi-Fi devices was allowed temporarily in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted movement and face-to-face teaching.

The NCS is providing internet connectivity to prisoners who need it for their studies, and that connectivity is not ineffective, unreliable, slow or poor as alleged, according to Hamunyela.

He said the internet service provided to inmates allows them to access all websites necessary to do their studies.

Hamunyela said some inmates have abused their internet access by watching movies, sending messages and also accessing pornographic websites, instead of using it for study purposes.

On Shaningua’s allegations that demands from the Fishrot accused prompted the prison authorities to act against him and fellow students, Hamunyela said internet access has been provided to the accused in the Fishrot case so that they can prepare for their trial, while Shaningua and his co-applicants are all sentenced offenders who have been granted internet access for educational and academic purposes only.

“The two should not be conflated,” Hamunyela said.

The inmates are represented by lawyers James Diedericks and Johan van Vuuren.

The respondents are represented by government lawyer Wilhelm Amukoto.

The post Prisoners sue Govt over internet use for studies appeared first on The Namibian.

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