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NEWS | Wednesday, 04 February 2009

Prison rights NGO to call for inquiry into abuse claims

The prison rights NGO Mid-Dlam Ghad-Dawl (MDD) today will ask the director of the Corradino Correctional Facility and the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs to launch an inquiry into the claims of discrimination by a transgender inmate.
Sister newspaper Illum reported last Sunday that Natal Bonello, a 34-year-old transgender inmate who previously served a prison sentence at Corradino, claimed she suffered discrimination both during her stay in prison and recently when visiting other transgender inmates at the same prison.
Bonello alleges that her friend, a transgender individual currently held in Division 6 at the prison, is being mistreated. “Just this week she called me crying. She is claiming that male prisoners are beating her up. She was sobbing and she told me that they even burnt her clothes in prison. This is sheer cruelty. She is being abused. The authorities have all the telephone recordings. They can check the facts.”
MDD secretary-general George Busuttil said that the NGO had discussed the claims by Bonello and that it will be following them up.
“We shall be writing a letter to the Minister of Justice and the director of the CCF to launch a full investigation into the ill-treatment allegations on the transgender inmate currently detained in prison.”
Bonello, who is legally male and has never undergone a sex change operation, insists that the Maltese authorities must investigate the claims.
Recalling her personal experience in prison, Bonello alleged she was also abused by prison wardens.
“Once a warden passed by my cell. He took one of my panties which I had washed and hung in my cell and he said, ‘What’s this?’ while he stroked the panties. ‘What’s this, dear?’ he said.”
Bonello claims that whenever she visits other inmates in the prison, she undergoes a full physical search, naked, by a male guard.
Although never having underwent an operative sex change, Bonello always felt like a woman, dresses like a woman, and that financial problems prevent her from carrying out the sex change.
Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici cited prison regulations which lay down that male and female prisoners must be kept, as far as possible, in separate prisons staffed, except for the Director, assistant director and chaplain, by prison officers of the same sex as the prisoners.
The regulations stipulate that if the prison receives both male and female prisoners, the whole of the premises allocated to either sex shall be kept entirely separated and have a separate entrance and exit.
Any searches on prisoners shall always be conducted by officers of the same sex.
“It is also worth noting that Mr Bonello is subjected to searches conducted by a person of the same sex that he is still legally assigned to. Having the search conducted by a female officer would be a breach of the regulations outlined earlier,” the minster said.
With regards to the allegations of ill-treatment suffered by the particular inmate who is friends with Bonello, the ministry simply stated: “the CCF authorities are not aware of him having suffered any abuses during his stay in Division 6. The Ministry is also informed that the prison authorities act promptly to address reports of abuse suffered by inmates.”
Serious questions surface on the integrity of this answer. Surprisingly, neither the ministry nor the CCF authorities have enquired about the name of the allegedly abused prisoner.
Bonello insists that the authorities need to check their facts right. “They need to hear the telephone recordings to be able to track down the pleas of the inmate.”


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