Waikeria Prison standoff: Amnesty International joins calls for Kelvin Davis to get involved

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has joined calls for Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis to get involved in the standoff at Waikeria Prison that's now entering its sixth day.

Sixteen inmates are holding out on a rooftop of the Waikato facility protesting against their treatment and conditions behind bars.

The events unfolded on Tuesday after prisoners set fire to buildings and ripped off shower doors before making it onto the roof.

Davis has said there's no chance he'll visit the prison until the issue is resolved despite calls from opposition politicians. Amnesty Aotearoa is now echoing those calls, saying Davis must ensure measures taken to address the situation at the jail protect the human rights of all involved.

In a statement on Saturday night, the organisation said everyone involved deserves to be treated with dignity.

"It is why we are calling on the Minister of Corrections, Hon Kelvin Davis, to take both immediate actions to end specific dehumanising practices and to launch an inquiry into the state of our prison system.

"The protesters in detention have already raised concerns about inhumane treatment. Further denying the humanity of all involved through tactics such as using excessive force, or withholding food and water, will only escalate an already difficult situation."

Fires erupted again on Saturday night.
Fires erupted again on Saturday night. Photo credit: Newshub.

Criminal justice organisation JustSpeak also says Davis needs to de-escalate the situation.

"The men currently protesting at Waikeria are shining a light on the inhumane conditions in this prison and demanding basic human rights for those in Waikeria - clean drinking water, hygienic eating facilities, and the bare minimum of sanitation including toilet paper and clean clothes," director Tania Sawicki Mead said.

"These are the same abject conditions that the Chief Ombudsman detailed in his report five months ago following an unannounced inspection of the facility."

Newshub has sought comment from Davis on Sunday.

As inmates set more fires on Saturday night, the Māori Council agreed the siege must be handed with care. Council executive director Matthew Tukaki is calling for calm amid the rising tensions.

Tukaki told Newshub on Saturday there is a lot at stake.

Rawiri Waititi, left, and Matthew Tukaki.
Rawiri Waititi, left, and Matthew Tukaki. Photo credit: Newshub.

"We also have to be conscious of the prisoners and their concerns - obviously also the Corrections workers and the community but, my goodness, we also have to be mindful of the victims."

Tukaki said it didn't help to have politicians turning up at the front gate of the jail. Opposition National MPs Simeon Brown and Barbara Kuriger attempted to visit the prison on Saturday to support Corrections officers. Brown told Newshub that Davis needed to intervene.

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said on Saturday he was contacted by whānau of inmates who claim they are "willing to surrender" but only if he is present "because they believe their safety will be compromised". 

"They don't trust the authorities and believe they will be harmed upon surrender," he said. "They have stated they will come out in body bags if I am not there to escort them out and ensure their safety."