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Jailbirds challenge death penalty

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A local human rights lobby group, Veritas, is fronting an attempt by 15 inmates to have the death penalty scrapped from Zimbabwe’s statute books.

BY RICHARD CHIDZA
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The Constitutional Court (ConCourt) will this week, according to Veritas, hear the case where the death row inmates are seeking stay of execution.

“On Wednesday October 28, the ConCourt is due to hear an important case, Chariwa and 14 others v Minister of Justice (Emmerson Mnangagwa) and others (CCZ 47/2015), in which 15 prisoners who are languishing on death row are seeking a stay of execution. The case has been initiated by Veritas,” the lobby group said in a statement on its website. The applicants were separately sentenced to death for murders that took place between four and 20 years ago.

“Since then, they have been kept on death row awaiting execution. They argue that they have been kept there for so long that it would be unconstitutional to execute them now – unconscionable might be a better word – for the following reasons: section 53 of the Constitution protects everyone, including convicted prisoners, against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

“The lengthy periods they have spent in prison awaiting execution, never knowing from one day to the not when they would be hanged [because death-row prisoners are not told in advance of the date and time of their execution] amounts to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” the prisoners will argue, according to the statement.

“Therefore, the applicants argue, they cannot now be executed and the ConCourt should commute their sentences to life imprisonment. The applicants rely on judgments of the Supreme Court which were laid down as long ago as 1993 that it was cruel, inhuman and degrading to keep prisoners under sentence of death waiting for long periods for their sentences to be carried out.”

The death penalty has been partially abolished, with women now exempt from the capital punishment.

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