By Constantinos Psillides
NEW tensions have arisen at the Menoyia detention centre after authorities said a guard was attacked by an inmate and had to be hospitalised.
The guard was admitted to hospital on Wednesday where he was diagnosed with a nasal fracture.
The inmate in question told a different story. He and other two inmates claim that the guards beat them regularly, that there is never enough food for everyone, that they are thrown in solitary confinement for days on end.
According to the police report, the prison guard conducted a search in the inmate’s cell Wednesday at around 6.30 pm. Once the inmate was informed of the search, according to the police, he reacted violently and attacked the officers present by kicking and head-butting them. The guards subdued the inmate and transported him to the Kofinou police station, where the injured guard pressed charges.
The Cyprus Mail contacted the inmate yesterday as Menoyia is technically not a prison and mobile phones are allowed.
“They upturned my cell; they made a mess and found nothing. This is not the first time they‘ve done that. I demanded an explanation and the guard told me to shut up and accused me of being unruly. I persisted and then they dragged me near the staircase where they beat me,” the inmate said.
“They tried to handcuff me and I thrashed around. When they turned me around I saw that the guard’s nose was broken. I really don’t know how that happened. They say I beat them. How could I do that? They were five guards and I was alone. How could I overpower them?” he said.
The inmate has been in Cyprus since 2008 and in and out of prison. He is a Lebanese national and claims he cannot return to Lebanon under fear of persecution as he is a Christian.
Two more inmates also reported abuse, saying that the guards beat them regularly. The inmates also paint a grim image regarding the meals. “They feed us rice all the time. The food is not enough for everyone in here. The portions are too small, it’s like everyone in here is on a forced diet,” said one of the other two inmates.
“They don’t have a solitary confinement cell so they lock you in a separate part of the building and just leave you there. They are even refusing to let us take a bath. The conditions here are horrid,” he said.
But an official at Menoyia said the inmates were exaggerating. “This is not a playground and you forget that not all of these people are poor, destitute immigrants. Some of them are criminals,” he said.
The official said the inmate in question was no saint. “He served time for 34 separate charges of theft but we cannot deport him so we keep him in Menoyia. He is always unruly, always provoking the guards,” said the official.
Asked whether the centre was willing to release footage from the CCTV cameras, the official said it was a matter for an investigating team.
When presented with the allegations of regular beatings, the official said that both the police and the office of the Ombudswoman investigated the claims but have yet to find anything out of order.
The official also rejected claims of malnourishment. He said catering was provided by a private contractor that also caters to hotels and airlines. “These are not public sector employees. They are very much interested in keeping their contract and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise it,” he said.
“The menu and portions were handed to us by the Cyprus Higher Hotel Institute and change every month. They [inmates] are provided three meals every day – all 256 people in here – and it costs the state €1.2 million a year. I realise that some may not like the food but this is not a hotel,” he said.
The €1.2 million tag roughly works out at €12 per day per inmate to feed around 250 detainees.
The official also dismissed the accusations over solitary confinement. “Of course they are not locked up alone for days on end and we have never denied them the right to shower. By law they can bathe once per day, from 8am to 11pm but some demand to be allowed to take a shower four or maybe five times a day. Again, we can’t have that. There are regulations,” he said.