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Give prisoners right to speak on constitution


Zimbabwean prisoners face the possibility of being sidelined during the constitution-making process as there are no outreach programmes lined up for inmates in the country’s penitentiaries.
Last week, inmates at Harare Prison pleaded with deputy Justice minister Obert Gutu for their voices to be heard in the crafting of a new constitution.
“We ask the honourable minister to ensure that the Copac outreach teams also visit us so that we can make contributions towards the crafting of the new constitution,” said Jonathan Mutsinze, a prisoner.
Mutsinze said prisoners were unhappy with delays in trying cases.
Although Copac co-chairperson, Munyaradzi Mangwana said the national policy on Zimbabwe’s prisoners implied that they could not take part during the constitution-making process, constitutional experts have said inmates had the right to participate.
“I know that according to the national policy of the country, prisoners do not vote,” said Mangwana.
“By implication, it means people outside prison will speak on their behalf because when you are in prison your rights are limited.”
However, Greg Linnington a renowned author on constitutional matters and a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe said prisoners should be allowed to make their views on the new constitution.
“I do not see why they should not make their views known to Copac, especially pertaining to conditions in Zimbabwe prisons. Article 15 of our Constitution prohibits inhuman degradation of our prisoners. A lot needs to be done to improve their conditions,” Linnington said. He said Copac must make arrangements to take their constitutional outreach programme to prisoners.
Caleb Mutandwa, a lawyer and programme coordinator for Justice for Children Trust said prisoners had a right to contribute their views to the new constitution.
“Prisoners are supposed to contribute because the Global Political Agreement (GPA) talks of the right of every Zimbabwean to make their constitution. Just because someone is in prison does not mean they are not Zimbabwean,” Mutandwa said.
He said prisoners only lost the right to their liberty and not other rights, hence they had a right to have their views incorporated intp the new constitution.
Mutandwa said prisoners had a lot of issues to contribute; for example, the rights of babies in prison by virtue that their mothers were convicted and they had to be born in prison.
He said those babies were not catered for in terms of rations in prison and their mothers deserved a right to speak in terms of how they would want the justice delivery system to be improved in Zimbabwe.
John Makumbe, a political analyst and lecturer in political sciences at the University of Zimbabwe said prisoners should be given a chance to air their views.
“There is nowhere in the Constitution of Zimbabwe that says prisoners should not participate in the new constitution. Copac should arrange for outreach meetings at every prison and hear the views of the people there,” Makumbe said.
“What we are talking about are the foundation laws of the country and prisoners have their views and those must be respected and a place should be created for them in the new constitution,” he said.
Makumbe said prisoners had views they would like enshrined in the new constitution in terms of capital punishment, whether it should be stated in the books or removed because many countries no longer apply the death sentence and yet in Zimbabwe it’s still applied.
A committee report by the parliament portfolio committee on Justice last year revealed shocking revelations on the state of Zimbabwean prisons. Many people have equated being imprisoned in Zimbabwe as having a death sentence passed on them.

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