A Press Statement from Senator Lilian Timveos,
Shadow Minister and MDC Spokesperson for Home Affairs.
MDC Condemns Government Over Worsening Prison Conditions
The Movement for Democratic Change strongly condemns the government for refusing to take immediate corrective action and seek international humanitarian assistance for thousands of people trapped by hunger, disease and lack of legal aid in Zimbabwe’s prisons.
We wish to register our outrage at the government over this indifference and urge the international community to come to the assistance of thousands of men and women trapped in these death cells mistakenly paraded as humane facilities. We are calling for access by independent experts for an impartial inspection of detention centres in the country.
In December, a senior official confirmed to a Committee of Parliament that 100 prisoners had recently died in detention due to hunger. Her evidence under oath confirmed reports from human rights groups that overcrowding is rife in the prisons, accompanied by severe food, medication, clothing and transport shortages. Torture, humiliation and coercion are applied routinely, with women sometimes being locked up with men and being threatened with rape as a form of punishment. Instead of acting on these grim reports, the Minister of Justice Emmerson Mnangagwa simply denied everything and forgot about it. What callous disregard for duty by a minister of the government.
As a nation, we must get to the root of this problem, which is a total breakdown in our justice delivery system, from the time a suspect is taken into custody at a police station to the time they get to serve their sentence if convicted. There is need for co-operation between all law-enforcement and justice delivery branches but the system is badly infected by corruption. Reports are surfacing daily of police and judicial officers being bribed to determine the pace of investigations and even stall proceedings in court on technicalities. We have also had reports of prison officers stealing the meagre supplies meant for prisoners or preventing relatives from bringing food. Corruption and mismanagement is the root of the problem.
Zimbabwe’s prisons, most dating back to colonial days, can accommodate only 17 000 but there are a reported 22 500 prisoners at any given time. Some 30 percent of these people are awaiting trial and many of them have been in prison for more than one year because of failure of the state system. The reason for this is failure by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to do their investigative work properly and keep innocent people out of jail. Many of the suspects are eventually released without being convicted, after spending up to 10 years in remand prisons. This is cruel.
The breakdown in our justice delivery system is a typical sign of repressive regimes around the world. We have seen at every turn the police disregarding court orders to have suspects released. This is a major contributing factor to the overcrowding and shortages in prisons because a lot of people who are detained do not deserve to be in jail. As an example, the Chief Justice in January cautioned the police to disregard cases of people “insulting” the President while drunk in bars, but we still get many MDC supporters being taken into custody over casual statements made at rallies and in pubs.
We want to take particular note of the case of the 31 people who were arrested in Glen View. One of those suspects, Ms Rebecca Mafukeni, died at Chikurubi Prison after being denied medical care. Others languished in prison for up to three years. Many were acquitted.
We have to ask whether or not it is right for a policeman to just walk up to innocent people and lock them up without looking at these possible consequences. The root of our problem of having more people behind bars than the system can take care of is shoddy detective work at the police station, or even before someone is arrested.
The way the Glen View case was handled was vindictive on the part of the police. They took innocent people with perfect alibis and incarcerated them. They condemned productive citizens of this nation to a life behind bars for simply belonging to the MDC, and for leading the people’s struggle for freedom.
Even before investigations were conducted, the police published a statement in the Sunday Mail claiming that the MDC was guilty of the offence. They then took profiled individuals who were linked to a crime they never committed.
It is this sort of political persecution and partisan policing which is crowding police cells and prisons throughout the country. As MDC, we demand a rights-based system that guarantees safety for everyone. It is therefore incumbent upon the police to do their work properly before arresting anyone as the results of a simple arrest can be death in filthy jails for the targeted individuals.
The Glen View case is a classic failure of police work. In a normal system, the officer who was in charge of that so-called investigation ought to resign. How can you persecute the wrong people for three years with no evidence while the real criminals are getting away? We call upon police commanders to take note of the fact that they are part of a rigid justice delivery system with limited resources. The more they pursue personal political agendas the less the needs of justice will be served.
Various people have talked about the dangerous levels to which our prisons have deteriorated. As the latest witnesses have testified, there is no food, there are no blankets or clothes and there is no room or medication. The same situation prevails in our police cells, where innocent people arrested for petty things are made to go for days without food and without bathing. This standard treatment people are getting equals torture on a mass scale.
We call upon the government to re-engage humanitarian organisations and seek international assistance on behalf of suffering prisoners, especially those at police stations. Above all we implore every policeman and woman to uphold justice by not getting involved in political disputes and filling our jails with the wrong people.
To contact Senator Timveos, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 263 779 701 082
A Press Statement from Senator Lilian Timveos,