BY VENERANDA LANGA
LEGAL think-tank Veritas says that all prisoners, even those incarcerated for the most heinous crimes, have constitutional rights to be treated by a medical practitioner of their choice as well as rights to an inquest to find out the causes of their deaths should they so die in prison.
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In their latest Bill Watch online publication, Veritas said even the recent tragic death of vendor, Hilton Tamangani at Harare Remand Prison cells on October 18 after allegedly being beaten up by the police must go through a public inquest so that the causes of his death are exposed.
“Whatever the cause of Tamangani’s death, the events surrounding it show a deplorable disregard for his constitutional rights as a prisoner,” the Veritas report read.
“Section 50(5) (c) of the Constitution provides that anyone who is detained has the right to communicate with, and be visited by, their relatives, their chosen religious counsellor, their chosen lawyer and their chosen medical practitioner.
“The right to be visited by all these people is important, but it is particularly important for prisoners to be allowed to see their medical practitioners, as Tamangani’s case so tragically demonstrates.”
The legal think-tank said when prisoners are in custody, it means that the State is responsible for ensuring their health and wellbeing.
“If medical facilities in prisons are inadequate – and it is notorious that they are basic at best and rudimentary or non-existent at worst – then the prison authorities must take prisoners to hospitals outside their prisons or allow them to receive care and treatment from their own medical practitioners,” the report read.
The think-tank’s statement also comes at a time Parliament is in the process of crafting the Coroner’s Office Bill which will provide for the establishment of the Coroner’s Office, responsible for investigating all deaths that come about as a result of unnatural causes.
“The office will be responsible for carrying out through independent investigations into deaths in hospitals, prisons, police cells and any other places that are not due to natural causes. The office will further investigate into circumstances surrounding unnatural deaths like homicide, infanticide, suicides and accidents,” the Coroners Bill read.
Veritas said prisoners, as human beings, can also be in poor health, so they need their own medical practitioners to treat them not prison doctors.
“Prisoners who claim they have been assaulted by the police or prison authorities may need to be examined by their own doctors in order to establish their claims. Above all, prison authorities must remember that prisoners have rights. Prisoners are deprived of much of their freedom of movement – they cannot leave their prison whenever they want to – and they may be deprived of other rights and freedoms so far as it is necessary to prevent them escaping and to maintain discipline in prisons,” Veritas noted.
“But apart from that they have all the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed them by 50(5)(c) of the Constitution. Even prisoners who have been found guilty of the most heinous crimes remain human beings entitled to their basic human rights. And it must be remembered that Tamangani was an awaiting trial prisoner who had not been tried for, let alone found guilty of, any crime at all,” Veritas added.