By Kumbirai Mafunda
A Zimbabwean court on Friday 14 August 2020 ordered Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) to stop the persecution of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Transform Zimbabwe political party leader Jacob Ngarivhume and allow them access to basic rights while in detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
Through their lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa, Gift Mtisi, Douglas Coltart, Roselyn Hanzi, and Moses Nkomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Chin’ono and Ngarivhume filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking an order compelling ZPCS to stop subjecting the prisoners inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In their application which was argued before High Court Judge Justice Jester Charewa by Advocate Taona Nyamakura, Chin’ono and Ngarivhume argued that they were unlawfully and unprocedurally deprived of several of their fundamental rights including the use of Personal Protective Equipment despite the rise in coronavirus infections and ZPCS’s apparent lack of adequate protective mechanisms against the deadly pandemic.
Chin’ono and Ngarivhume also asked to be allowed to receive food from private sources, to provide for themselves or from outside sources with warm clothing, and to provide their own bedding and other necessities.
The Officer In Charge of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, Paradzai Zimondi, the Commissioner-General of ZPCS and Ziyambi Ziyambi, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, were listed as respondents to the urgent chamber application.
Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police on Monday 20 July 2020 and charged with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry as defined in section 187(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
They were also charged with incitement to commit public violence as defined in section 187(1)(a) as read with section 36(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Prosecutors alleged that Chin’ono and Ngarivhume incited people to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration during some planned anti-government protests called for on 31 July 2020.
The prisoners argued that ZPCS had not furnished them with any cogent reasons justifying the illegal deprivation of their rights including being denied to have private consultations with their lawyers save to state that they were following orders from some undisclosed prison officials.
Chin’ono and Ngarivhume told the court that they have a right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity as enshrined in section 50 of the Constitution as read with section 78 of the Prisons Act.
The duo said by denying them the right to food, personal protective equipment, and warm clothing, ZPCS was deliberately placing their lives in danger.
In a landmark ruling handed down on Friday 14 August 2020, High Court Judge Justice Jester Charewa ordered ZPCS to allow Chin’ono and Ngarivhume access to their legal practitioners and to ensure that the privacy of their communication is respected and also to access medical practitioners of choice in line with reasonable administrative measures.
Justice Charewa ordered ZPCS to allow Chin’ono and Ngarivhume access to food in line with reasonable administrative measures, access to social visits, in line with reasonable administrative measures.
ZPCS was also ordered to allow the prisoners access to clothing on condition that the supplied clothes mirror as best as practicably possible the colours permitted for prisoners and to access personal protective equipment particularly masks and gloves.
Meanwhile, Chinóno returns to Harare Magistrates Court on Tuesday 18 August 2020, where Magistrate Ngoni Nduna will hand down his ruling on an application in which state prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi is seeking to have Mtetwa to be removed from representing Chin’ono as his lead lawyer.