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Lawyers challenge filthy holding cells

Dumisani Muleya

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a civic grouping, and two individuals have filed a test Supreme Court application challenging “sordid and dirty” conditions in polic

e holding cells around the country.

ZLHR, Zimbabwe Congress for Trade Unions secretary-general Wellington Chibebe, and Nancy Kachingwe, filed the case in terms of Section 24 of the Constitution in April. Hearing of the matter will be on June 17.

Chibebe and Kachingwe, once detained at Matapi in Mbare and Highlands police stations respectively, say conditions in the cells are “sordid and dirty as to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment”.

They say the situation at Matapi and Highlands is a microcosm of appalling conditions in police cells around the country.

However, police in their opposing papers says the conditions at Matapi and Highlands are not representative of conditions throughout the country.

They also say the applicants have no locus standi to make the case and that the court has no jurisdiction to direct government on such a matter.

But the applicants insist police should be forced to comply with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

ACHPR says: “All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”

ICCPR states that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect.”

The situation in police cells not only violates the country’s laws and international conventions but also Police Standing Orders, the applicants say.

They say the court should rule that “police holding cells in Zimbabwe are degrading and inhuman and unfit for detaining suspects”.

The court must also rule that the cells should be of a reasonable size, have good ventilation, sufficient lighting, and places of resting such as chairs or benches, they argue.

“Each person obliged to stay overnight in police custody should be provided with a clean mattress and blankets,” the applicants say.

“Police holding cells should have clean and decent flushing toilets with toilet paper in a sanitary annex in the police cell.”

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