|Judges inspect police cells|
|Friday, 15 June 2012 12:00|
THE Supreme Court yesterday came face-to-face with conditions under which suspects are held at Harare Central Police Station. The court, sitting as a constitutional court, adjourned proceedings to assess the situation at the police station before it determines a constitutional application by four women seeking a declaratory order conde-mning the cells as inhuman and degrading.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise members Ms Jennifer Williams, Ms Magodonga Mahlangu, Ms Clara Manjengwa and Ms Celina Madukani were arrested following a demonstration on April 15 2010 and spent at least three nights in the cells.
The Attorney-General declined to prosecute them. They brought the constitutional case under section 24 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which allows an individual to approach the Supreme Court if he or she feels that his or her constitutional rights have been infringed.
The five-judge panel led by Justice Vernanda Ziyambi after the inspection of the police cells observed that:
l The first floor cells had a stench and the cells that accommodate up to six people had six blankets.
l There were no doors to the toilets and there were no windows.
l Taps for drinking water were above the toilet holes and there were six built in concrete beds in each cell without mattresses.
l Toilets were being flushed from outside among others.
l Cells were generally clean and floor polish had just been applied.
The other members of the panel Justices Paddington Garwe, Rita Makarau, Yunus Omerjee and Anne-Mary Gowora concurred with the observation.
Lawyers Advocate Lewis Uriri, Mr Dzimbabwe Chimbga, and Ms Belinda Chinowawa who are representing the four and Mr Ray Goba, who is acting for the Police and the two Co-Ministers of Home Affairs, agreed with the court’s observations.
In their application, the women claim that they were subjected to inhuman treatment and that they suffered gender discrimination at the hands of the police.
They also claim that they were denied protection of the law in violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The parties agreed while at the Supreme Court that there was need to inspect the cells before hearing the argument on the merits of the application.
The visit was immediately arranged.
Ms Williams deposed an affidavit in which she chronicled the group’s experience at the time of their detention in the cells.
She stated that upon arrest, the group was ordered to remove shoes and even the undergarments before walking barefoot on a dirty floor.
The cells according to Ms Williams were dirty and human excreta and urine smelt heavily.
It was stated in the papers that the police did not provide sanitary wear to the detained suspects and that the toilets were full of waste.
The flushing system was outside and the inmates could rely on the police officers’ sense of smell on flushing.
Only an officer outside would flush as and when he or she smells the stench.
There were no adequate blankets and suspects would sleep on concrete beds without mattresses, the women claim.
The women indicated that there was no toilet paper in the toilets and that upon asking for such paper, they were ordered to use their own hands.
Ms Williams said there was no privacy in the toilets since there was no partitioning to separate the toilet and the cell that accommodates up to six suspects each.
They also complained of poor lighting and non-provision of food to suspects.
In the opposing affidavit by Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, the State defended the removal of shoes and other clothes as a security measure against suicide by inmates.
Some inmates, according to the State, use shoelaces to commit suicide while in cells.
Comm Gen Chihuri said there was running water at the cells and that no human excreta flowed into the cells as alleged.
He said toilet paper could be provided at Harare Central Police upon request.
However, Comm Gen Chihuri conceded that the police did not provide sanitary provisions for menstruating women.
“It is admitted that no toilet paper is kept in the cells. It is issued out upon request. It is correct that the police do not provide sanitary provisions for menstruating women as arrested persons are only kept for 48 hours before being taken to court.
“In any event female suspects are permitted to bring them when required,” he said.
On blankets, the Comm Gen Chihuri said there were adequate blankets which are always clean.
“Every prisoner is supposed to be issued with three blankets which he will return to the police member who releases them.
“Indeed it could be true that the blankets could have been inadequate due to the large numbers in the cells, but the issue of cleanliness of the blankets is not true,” he said.
After the inspection of the police cells yesterday, Justice Ziyambi read out the observation that the court made.
The Constitutional Court heard arguments from both the State and the four women’s lawyers and reserved judgment to a later date.