Govt sued over deplorable prison conditions

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By Leopold Munhende

THE Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and a former prisoner, Taurai Mbewe have lodged a High Court application seeking to compel Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube to release funding for more prison facilities.

The development is meant to avert a potential health disaster due to overcrowding within the country’s correctional facilities.

This comes after a recent visit revealed the deplorable situation and diet which prisoners are being subjected to.

Also cited as respondents are the Commissioner General of Prisons, Minister of Justice Ziyambi Ziyambi and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga in his capacity as health minister.

Papers lodged at the High Court by the forum’s executive director Musa Kika indicate the situation in the country’s prisons is so bad that authorities have admitted they may not be able to contain any disease outbreak including Covid-19.

The litigants are seeking to declare the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services’ (ZPCS) failure to comply with basic Covid-19 regulations such as provision of facemasks, hand sanitisers and social distancing, unlawful.

“The failure by the 1st and 2nd Respondents to comply with Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment Regulations and Orders at Prisons and Correctional facilities, is unlawful,” reads the application.

“The failure by the 1st and 2nd Respondents to comply with basic hygienic standards, and with basic dietary requirements for prisoners, is unlawful.

“First to Third Respondents are directed to procure Covid-19 testing kits, commensurate with the prisoner population at each ZPCS medical facility.

“Fourth Respondent is directed to immediately release funds to finance all additional necessary expenditures, specifically including acquisition of PPE, daily supply of water, purchase of medical supplies, and acquisition of additional motor vehicles for the transportation of prisoners.

“Fourth Respondent is directed to immediately release funds for the acquisition and construction of additional prison and correctional facilities that would permit the requisite social distancing.”

In the papers, Mbewe indicates prisoners were being fed porridge as breakfast while sadza with either boiled beans or boiled cabbage was served as lunch and supper.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa earlier this year pardoned thousands of prisoners in a bid to decongest prisons as a precaution against Covid-19.

However, those who remained were not given basic personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Only those on remand would be given face marks upon appearance in courts.