American sues Govt over solitary confinement

ONE of the United States citizens accused of having murdered a young man in Windhoek at the start of 2010 is now suing the Namibian government for N$3 million because of the conditions in which he has been kept in prison.

Kevin Townsend is claiming that he was the victim of a gross violation of human rights when he was kept in solitary confinement in the Windhoek Correctional Facility for 18 months.

In a case lodged at the Windhoek High Court in May, Townsend is suing government, the minister of safety and security, the commissioner general of the Namibian Correctional Service, and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Safety and Security for N$3 million.

That N$3 million is the price of the general damages, physical and emotional pain and suffering, and injury to his rights that he experienced as a result of having been kept alone in a prison cell from 4 July 2014 to 15 January this year, Townsend is claiming.

The government and three other defendants have given notice that they will be defending Townsend’s claim.

Government lawyer Mkhululi Khupe has indicated to the court that the defendants’ plea in answer to Townsend’s claim will be filed at the court by 11 October. The defendants will also ask Townsend to deposit an amount of money with the court to cover their legal costs in the event that Townsend’s claim is dismissed.

Townsend (30) and a fellow US citizen, Marcus Kevin Thomas (31), have been in custody in Namibia since 7 January 2011. They are facing charges in connection with the killing of the 25-year-old Andre Peter Heckmair, who was shot dead in a quiet street in Klein Windhoek on 7 January 2011.

The state is alleging that Thomas and Townsend travelled from the US to Namibia to carry out a plan to murder Heckmair.

Before travelling to Namibia, Thomas allegedly posted bail in an amount of US$10 000 to secure Townsend’s release from a US jail, where he was in police custody at that stage.

The trial of Townsend and Thomas started in the Windhoek High Court in November 2014, but promptly ground to a halt after a defence lawyer representing Thomas asked to have him referred for psychiatric observation to determine if he was mentally fit to be tried.

Thomas staged an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the Windhoek Correctional Facility during the night preceding the scheduled first day of his and Townsend’s trial. His jailbreak ended on an upside-down note, with him hanging ensnared on a razor wire fence on the prison grounds.

He subsequently claimed to have suffered a head injury in a fall during the escape – with the injury supposedly having affected his mental capacity to such an extent that he was no longer fit to stand trial.

With the criminal trial before judge Christie Liebenberg stalled since November 2014, a hearing on a second round of psychiatric evaluation that Thomas went through earlier this year is scheduled to continue from 3 October.

In his damages claim, Townsend is alleging that he was detained in solitary confinement in violation of Namibia’s Constitution, the Correctional Service Act, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Except for the dates on which he had to appear in the High Court, he was deprived of contact with other people during the time that he was kept in a one-person prison cell, he claims. The treatment that he received between July 2014 and January this year violated his right to liberty, the right not to be detained arbitrarily, his right to dignity, and the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, Townsend also alleges.

Defence lawyer Mbanga Siyomunji is representing Townsend in his criminal trial, and also in the civil case against the government and other defendants.

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