BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE Zimbabwe Human Rights (ZHR) NGO Forum yesterday petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa to pardon some prisoners in order to decongest the correctional facilities in line with COVID-19 safety protocols.
The petition was delivered at the President’s Offices in Harare. Human rights lawyers have been concerned over congestion in prisons and lack of adequate medical care and facilities to protect prisoners from COVID-19, and were advocating for out-of-custody remands on petty crimes.
ZHR NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said the risk of COVID-19 spreading in overcrowded prisons was high, hence the need to decongest them. “There are nearly 22 000 prisoners in Zimbabwe today against a total holding capacity of 17 000 and worryingly, the government has no strategy in place to contain the spread of the virus,” said Kika.
“Granting of a presidential pardon is the right thing to do right now to protect the vulnerable prisoners.”
In the petition, the rights defenders cited prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly and the juveniles as the most vulnerable to infection, and eligible for pardon.
The petition also called on Mnangagwa to order responsible ministries and the national COVID-19 taskforce to develop and publish a COVID-19 prevention and response strategy in prisons in line with regional best practices.
Results of tests done at Mutimurefu Prison in Masvingo showed that 110 inmates out of 150 tested positive to the virus, which translates to nearly 75% of the prison population.
Kika said the Mutimurefu results mirrored the situation in most Zimbabwean prisons.
Recently, MDC-Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere tested positive to COVID-19 two days after she was released from remand prison on allegations of publishing falsehoods. Suspended Harare mayor Jacob Mafume’s cellmates at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison also reportedly succumbed to COVID-19.
“The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is also expected to conduct an inquiry on the state of prisons, produce a report and devise a long-term strategy to address perennial problems affecting Zimbabwean prisons,” the lobby group said in a statement. “Prison authorities in Zimbabwe have struggled to provide basic needs like water, standard ablution facilities, food and medical care for decades.”
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