Friday, May 23, 2008
Prison conditions in Mutare appaling
Mutare – The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)is worried at the appalling prison conditions at Mutare Remand Prison following a recent operation by police to net people allegedly hunting for the precious diamonds at Chiadzwa fields in Marange, about 90 km south of Mutare.
"The prison service in Mutare has been overwhelmed seriously and Mutare Remand Prison for instance now holds over 1 100 prisoners instead of 300 which is its capacity," said Tinoziva Bere, a senior member of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
Two weeks ago the police launched a massive operation to restore order at the diamond fields and close to 1 500 illegal miners, dealers and vendors which included children as young as 12 and 13 years of age.
Those arrested have been appearing in court in groups of 10 to 12 and forced to make chorus pleas.
Bere said armed police with specially trained dogs invaded the Chiadzwa area and arrested hundreds of men, women and children and detained them in conditions that were inhumane.
The exercise resulted in some of the people being bitten by the dogs, others were assaulted by the police officers and others sustained injuries from falling as they were being chased by the ferocious police dogs.
"Many complain that they were arrested from the main road, their homes, the grazing fields, shopping centres and villages/homestead in and around the Chiadzwa area."
Some claimed they had nothing to do with the hunting of the precious mineral but were vendors selling their goods in and around the area while others said they were mere visitors to their relatives and friends in the area.
The lawyers said the police forcefully opened their homes and confiscated foodstuff and groceries some which was thrown away and destroyed.
"Those who had money on them claim that it was taken by the police without being recorded," said "Bere.
"Most detainees claim that they were taken to various detention places and police stations where they were kept in crowded filthy conditions for as long as four to five days in some cases before being brought to court. The numbers were such the toilet and bathing facilities were inadequate to non-existent. Most when brought to court had not bathed since arrest and some had nothing or little to eat."
Most carried visible injuries especially vicious and deep dog bites and had not received any tetanus injection or any medication at all.
"They still wore the clothes they were in when arrested and some had visible bloodstains. A number had to be assisted to get into and out of court," said the lawyers, adding, at least 25 in every 100 prisoners are injured in one way or the other.
"All those interviewed never had warned and cautioned statements recorded from them and were simply told when they get to court to plead guilty to the charges so that they would be asked to pay a mere fine for environmental damage and be released. Many were not aware that in fact the charges preferred were tied to a minimum sentence of 2 years imprisonment."
Bere accused judiciary officers of failing to discharge their duties properly. Magistrates were accused of conducting fast track mass trials which were a miscarriage of justice.
"There is chaos in the record keeping, the movement of prisoners, the identities of prisoners, and the identification of appropriate courts where proceedings should take place, there is no recording equipment, and there is a terrible stench that one senses from the court house because of the numbers of wounded, unbathed prisoners."
The lawyers said the detained suspects had little or no access to their relatives and lawyers were having difficulty tracing their clients or the record or prison numbers or venues for their hearings.