Hundreds of suspects are languishing in remand prison, some for over a decade with neither a remand nor trial date due to incompetence by State officials, a report on the state of the country’s jails has revealed.
The research carried out by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum titled: “Rights Behind Bars – A Study of Prison Conditions In Zimbabwe 2018”, shows the deplorable state of the country’s prisons where inmates live without access to water, food, clothing and bedding.
Released on Wednesday, the study which involved seven prisons was undertaken with cooperation from the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO).
Surveyed prisons include Connemara Open in Gweru, Bindura Farm, Mutare Farm, Tabudirira Satellite in Mutoko, Whahwa Young Offenders in Gweru, Mlondolozi in Bulawayo and Harare Remand. Mlondlolozi Prison predominantly houses prisoners with mental health challenges.
At the Harare Remand Prison, it was discovered that there was a high number of inmates who had been held for periods longer than the constitutionally required periods of pre-trial detention.
“The first case involved an inmate who was arrested in 2007 and has been in remand since then. This means the accused has been on remand for more than 10 years,” the study highlighted.
“There were two State witnesses, one of them had passed away and the other one was nowhere to be found. He (the accused) had a pro deo lawyer with whom he had lost contact many years back. The accused person had neither a remand date nor a trial date. He did not know what to do with his case given the circumstances. An attempt to apply for bail had failed because his lawyer has been slow in responding to this wishes.”
The accused, whose name or offence were not mentioned, last received a visitor in 2011.
“The second case involved Lameck Akim, a prisoner who had been on remand for more than seven years, since March 2010. In October 2016, he applied for bail but instead the trial started in November 2016. The matter was then remanded to 7 February 2017, but could not go to court because of fuel challenges,” it was revealed.
Akim has a pro deo lawyer, but has not been in touch with him and does not know what happened to his case since he failed to appear in February 2017, as had been expected, he rarely receives visitors.
Albert Nherera has been in prison for five years and has legal representation, but said his trial had been postponed since 2015 due to lack of witnesses. Another unnamed prisoner accused of murder had been in prison for six years and 10 months at the time of the monitoring visit, but had also failed to appear in court twice due to fuel shortages.
“The experiences of the four detained persons interviewed are just a ‘tip of the iceberg’ as there are hundreds of pre-trial detainees at Harare Remand Prison. There is no doubt that the periods for which many prisoners have been placed in remand violate the requirements set out in the Constitution and standards in international human rights instruments,” the report added.
According to the human rights organisation, international and domestic laws require an accused to be brought to court within 48 hours of their arrest and to be detained for a reasonable period of time stipulated by the court.
“In the case of State versus Tau, the High Court found that a delay of five years in finalising a trial was due to the State’s administrative inertia and incompetence and could not be attributed to the accused person.
“Sadly, some prisoners have been in detention for more than 10 years despite international and domestic standards suggesting that they should be released,” said the report.
It said detained persons continued to be deprived of their liberty, as a result of apologies such as shortage of fuel or the lack of knowledge regarding the whereabouts of State witnesses.
“In other cases, the witnesses have either died or allegedly relocated to foreign countries. In almost all cases, the reasons for the State’s failure to continue with the trial are not attributable to the accused person, but to either the State or other unforeseen circumstances.
“Yet the accused is made to remain in detention as if he or she were the cause of the circumstances,” the rights groups said.