The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has expressed concern about the treatment of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, the leader of Transform Zimbabwe political party, who are currently detained at Chikurubi Maximum Prison.
On Saturday 8 August 2020, ZLHR lawyers Roselyn Hanzi, Beatrice Mtetwa, and Moses Nkomo visited their clients, Chin’ono and Ngarivhume at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, where they were moved to from Harare Remand Prison on Friday 7 August 2020 by Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) officials.
Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s lawyers only came to know of the transfer of their clients late on Friday 7 August 2020 after they learnt from independent sources that the duo had been strip-searched, shackled in leg irons and eventually moved at night to Chikurubi Maximum Prison.
This transfer had not been communicated formally to Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s legal practitioners beforehand.
The Officer in Charge of Harare Remand Prison confirmed to the legal practitioners that he had received instructions from “above” pertaining to the transfer.
When Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s lawyers visited their clients on Saturday 8 August 2020, they were denied access to consult the two prisoners in private with ZPCS insisting that they be present during any consultations or be within earshot of the discussions involving the two detainees.
The ZPCS officials could not entertain arguments by lawyers that they had previously visited other clients and had been allowed that privacy because, in terms of the law, communication between a lawyer and client is privileged and confidential.
But the prison officers advised Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s lawyers that they had direct orders not to allow lawyers to consult with clients if they could not hear the discussions and that section 140(6) of the Commissioner-General’s Standing Order Part VII Visits and Communication did not allow this.
The Commissioner-General’s Standing Orders are in direct violation of section 50(5)(b) of the Constitution, which provides that “any person who is detained, including a sentenced prisoner, has the right at their own expense, to consult in private with a legal practitioner of their choice, and to be informed of this right promptly.”
ZLHR also learned that Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were not provided with jerseys while in detention as prison officers advised that they did not have any more jerseys in stock. Although the two prisoners’ lawyers sought permission to bring in warm clothes as ZPCS has no jerseys, this request was turned down with prison officers insisting that only the red and white prison jersey is allowed and that lawyers have to source the jerseys for the clients.
It took a lot of haggling between the lawyers and prison officers for them to allow Chin’ono and Ngarivhume to have access to food which had been brought by their lawyers as their ZPCS kitchen had closed with the ZPCS officials insisting that home-prepared food was not permitted because of the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Of concern to ZLHR is the welfare of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume who have been left with no access to food as the two do not eat sadza for medical reasons but they were advised that ZPCS only serves sadza in prison. Because both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume are on medication, they would need access to a balanced diet while in prison.
“The blatant and malicious stripping away of the two prisoners’ basic rights including the right to give instructions to lawyers of their choice in private is unconstitutional. The harsh treatment of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume undermines the presumption of innocence,” ZLHR said
The human rights advocacy group said f great concern too, is the undermining and obstruction of legal practitioners who are merely attempting to protect their clients’ fundamental rights and perform their professional duties.
ZLHR is urging ZPCS authorities to uphold constitutional provisions that guarantee fundamental rights of arrested and detained persons including Zimbabwe’s regional and international obligations on rights of detainees, which include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.