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Deaths behind bars – Is this the law?


This week alone NewsDay carried stories on three cases of inmates who died mysteriously in police custody.
NewsDay Comment

Circumstances surrounding their deaths point to murder and the cases are at various stages of investigation.

As we speak, a Mhondoro family is refusing to bury its son who was allegedly beaten to death at Mubayira Police Station last week.

Eric Chivhunga had been arrested following a scuffle with security guards at a local farm where he had gone to collect logs for his brick-moulding furnace.

However, according to the family, the police told them they had released him and he met his fate outside the station.

In Kwekwe, the family of Blessing Matanda, who was found lying in a pool of blood with a gun next to his body in police cells earlier this month, is also refusing to bury him.

Matanda was facing allegations of breaking into a shop.

Police allegedly claimed he smuggled the gun inside and committed suicide, a statement the family has vehemently refused to accept. Earlier in the week, we also reported that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is demanding a full report from the police following the death of Raymond Matinyenya who died in their custody in August last year.

It is alleged Matinyenya, who had reportedly stolen a vehicle, was shot dead by police and the family has remained in the dark as to how he died. The lawyers are demanding a copy of the docket under which the now deceased was being investigated and a report of the State pathologist’s postmortem carried out at Parirenyatwa Hospital. The family alleges he had a gunshot wound on his left side under the jaw which ruptured his lower and upper jaw, in addition to severe bruises on his legs.

In the view of many, these cases may be a tip of the iceberg as to what exactly is happening to suspects behind bars.

Suppose the accused persons were indeed guilty of the charges they were facing, are any of them serious enough to warrant a lengthy custodial sentence, let alone death? We do not believe so.

Overzealousness on the part of the police officers appears to be reaching worrying levels and justice ought to prevail. Lawlessness doesn’t come bigger than this. Thorough investigations have to be instituted on these, and many other cases of accused persons dying at the hands of police. No one is above the law – police officers included.

It is the law that once a suspect is under police custody, he/she has human rights which include access to lawyers and a chance to defend themselves before the courts.

Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri is on record as saying Zimbabwe has one of the most professional police officers under the sun, as evidenced by their numerous invitations for United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Since charity begins at home, it is important for Chihuri to come to terms with the callous treatment some of his “professional officers” are meting out, before making extravagant claims.

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