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Zimbabwe prisons a death trap, says EU

by Staff reporter
15 Jan 2021 at 07:33hrs | Views
THE European Union has raised a red flag over the continued incarceration of journalists and opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, as well as the poor state of the country's prisons which it described as death traps at a time COVID-19 infections have soared.

Its statement came after journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, MDC Alliance vice-chairperson Job Sikhala, and MDC Alliance party spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere were arrested last week and charged for allegedly communicating falsehoods.

They are being charged under section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Harare mayor Jacob Mafume is also in remand prison facing bribery charges, while student leader Allan Moyo remains in remand prison as well.

The EU said the detention of journalists and opposition politicians was "questionable".

"The current pre-trial detentions, delays of proceedings and bail denials without serious charges are questionable, especially in times of COVID-19," the EU in Zimbabwe said in a statement.

"The infection risk in jail is high due to overcrowding and lack of hygiene. We know this because we support prisons through VSO Zimbabwe."

Their concerns over continued incarceration of Chin'ono and opposition politicians were corroborated by publisher and Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) chairman Trevor Ncube, who also issued a statement yesterday condemning the arrests of the trio.

Ncube described Chin'ono's arrest as "a chilling attack on freedom of expression by the State".

"That the three have been charged under a law that was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2014 makes the violation of their rights to free speech even more pernicious.

"Muzzling those who call for State accountability is a cynical abuse of power. What would have received urgent attention from the State are allegations of police brutality," Ncube said.

"The State has a duty of care to its citizens, and when there is an incident that leads to speculation about possible police brutality, the State should reassure the public that it will investigate and hold any offender accountable, as was the case with the video of the woman seen cradling her child."

He said the country's Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression and that instead of arresting, the police only needed to set the record straight.

The Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef ) also expressed concern over the silence of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union over gross violation of freedom of expression and Press freedom by the Zimbabwean government.

"We, therefore, note with dismay Sadc and the AU's silence at this gross violation of freedom of expression, Press freedom and, indeed, human rights. "We further note that this is not the first time this has happened in Zimbabwe. Journalists have routinely been arrested and intimidated in Zimbabwe for years. It is not the first time Chin'ono himself has been arrested. It's the third time in as many months," Zinef chairperson Dumisani Muleya said in a statement.

The Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) also expressed concern over the prison conditions, saying there was lack of sanitisers and other COVID-19-related consumables at the country's correctional centres after several inmates tested positive to the virus.

They said prisoners in Zimbabwe were the most vulnerable group that was exposed to COVID-19 as services at correctional centres had continued to deteriorate.

"We note reports from our networks highlighting the despairing situation of arrested persons and detainees in Zimbabwe. We are alarmed by reports of alleged lack of sanitisers in police stations and poor sanitary conditions in holding cells," WCoZ said in a statement.

Zimbabwe Association of Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender chief executive officer Edson Chiota said there were fears of soaring cases of infections in prisons.

He said the numbers were not being made public because of restrictions.

"The problem is that there are restrictions in prisons and that has also affected information dissemination. We do not know what is happening, but the issue is if those outside are affected, those inside can also face more risk because of the conditions," he said.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi was not picking calls yesterday, while permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza did not respond to questions sent to her.

Chin'ono and Sikhala have said the situation inside Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison was deplorable.

Lawyers representing Mafume, led by Tendai Biti, last week also spoke about overcrowding in the prisons, where they revealed that Mafume was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Several other embassies, including the Danish embassy in Zimbabwe, also raised concerns over the arrests and ill-treatment of prisoners and described them as a human rights abuse.

Source - newsday
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