Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
A GROUP of lawyers doing public interest litigation for free have taken the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) to court challenging its decision to deny them access to about 90 death row inmates at Harare Remand Prison who they intend to provide legal counsel in defence of their right to life.
Tendai Biti Law Firm is currently representing 17 others who are locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison pending Constitutional Court challenges but ZPCS Commissioner-General Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi had denied the lawyers access to those awaiting execution at Harare Remand Prison.
The lawyers argued that Government was finalising the recruitment of a hangman for the purposes of commencing the execution of the condemned inmates. They also argued that the recent public call by President Mugabe for the restoration of the full effects of death penalty, with all its conditions that existed prior to the adoption of the new Constitution in 2013, was also an indication that execution was now imminent.
To that end, the lawyers filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking an order compelling Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) to allow them access to their clients and all other inmates awaiting capital punishment, in defence of their constitutional right to life. In the urgent chamber application filed on Thursday, the law firm cited ZPCS and its Comm-Gen Retired Maj-Gen Paradzai Zimondi as respondents.
The lawyers, in the interim, want the court to compel ZPCS to allow them to visit all the death row inmates, interview them and to inform them of their rights. They are seeking costs against Comm-Gen Zimondi on a punitive scale because, according to the lawyers, he has acted in a manner that disrespects the fundamental rights, freedoms, democratic values and principles as enshrined in the supreme law of the country.
The law firm, which does public interest litigation for free, has represented at least 17 prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and some of their challenges are still pending at the Constitutional Court. When the 17 were represented by the same lawyers years back, Comm-Gen Zimondi granted access and allowed the law firm to file court applications on the prisoners’ behalf.
Tendai Biti Law Firm argued in its papers that the prisons boss was discriminating against about 90 other prisoners who are locked up at Harare Central Prison by denying the lawyers access to them.
“We contend that the position taken by first respondent (Comm-Gen Zimondi) is totally unreasonable, grossly irrational and ridiculous to say the least. For status, first respondent’s actions discriminate against prisoners at Harare Remand Prison. At Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, he allowed us access and we have been able to work with these prisoners.
“He cannot deny the prisoners at Harare Remand Prison the same benefit,” reads the papers.
The lawyers said Comm-Gen Zimondi was breaching the right to equal protection to death row prisoners at Harare Remand Prison as guaranteed by Section 56 of the Constitution.
The right to a legal practitioner of their choice was also being violated by the ZPCS boss’ decision.
“Every prisoner enjoys the right to challenge his condition in terms of the Constitution. The prisoner cannot exercise such right without information and without legal advice. By denying us the right and opportunity of conversing with those prisoners, the first respondent is breaching their rights,” the lawyers argued.
Comm-Gen Zimondi, the lawyers argued, has dismally failed to uphold the Constitution.
“We find it extremely ridiculous that 37 years after independence, a freedom fighter such as the first respondent can adopt the attitude reflected in his letter of the 31st of October 2017. He failed and failed dismally to uphold the Constitution. His conduct is shameful, crass and regrettable and this is why we seek costs against him in this application to be paid on a scale as between attorney and client,” reads the court papers.
The application is yet to be set down for hearing at the High Court.