HUMAN rights lawyers have accused the police of committing serious human rights abuses and causing a humanitarian crisis after launching an operation to restore order at the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange.
The lawyers say due to the operation, prison facilities are crammed with people while courts are failing to cope with the huge number of suspects coming before them.
The operation also netted children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly people.
Remand and prison facilities in this eastern border city which can only accommodate a maximum of 300 people are crammed with over 1 000 people, some with untreated wounds from police dog bites.
Those arrested are appearing in court in groups of 10 to 12. The crisis has forced human rights lawyers in the city to intervene in a bid to rescue the people detained at the remand prison.
Two weeks ago the police launched a massive operation to restore order at the diamond fields in Chiadzwa, Marange, about 90 km south of Mutare.
Close to 1 000 illegal miners, dealers and vendors were netted within the diamond fields and surrounding areas and were taken to Mutare.
In a statement the lawyers said armed police with specially trained dogs moved into the Chiadzwa area and arrested hundreds of men, women and children and detained them in conditions that are inhumane.
The lawyers, led by Tinoziva Bere, said in the process of arrest some were bitten by the dogs, others were assaulted by the police officers and others sustained injuries from falling as they were being chased by the dogs.
“Many complain that they were arrested from the main road, their homes, the grazing fields, shopping centres and villages/homesteads in and around the Chiadzwa area,” the lawyers said in their statement in our possession. “Some claim that they were vendors selling their goods in and around the area while others were mere visitors to their relatives and friends in the area.”
“Most accused/detainees claim that they were taken to various detention places and police stations where they were kept in crowded filthy conditions for as long as four to five days before being brought to court. The numbers were such the toilets and bathing facilities were inadequate to non-existent. Most when brought to court had not bathed since arrest and some had nothing or little to eat.”
They said most of those in detention carry visible injuries especially vicious and deep dog bites and had not received any tetanus injection or any medication at all.
The statements said all those interviewed never had warned and cautioned statements recorded from them and were simply told when they got to court to plead guilty to the charges so that they would be asked to pay a mere fine for environmental damage and be released. Many were not aware that in fact the charges preferred were tied to a minimum sentence of two years imprisonment.”
The lawyers accused judicial officers of failing to discharge their duties properly when handling the cases of those netted in the police operation.
“There is chaos in the record keeping, the movement of prisoners, the identities of prisoners, and the identification of appropriate courts where proceedings should take place, there is no recording equipment, and there is a terrible stench that one senses from the court house because of the numbers of wounded, unbathed prisoners.”
The lawyers said the detained suspects had little or no access to their relatives and lawyers were having difficulty tracing their clients or the record or prison numbers or venues for their hearings.
“Prison service in Mutare has been overwhelmed seriously and Mutare Remand Prison for instance now holds over 1100
prisoners instead of 300 which is its capacity. The farm is already at maximum capacity.”
“They had no advance warning of this blitz and have no space, food, blankets, clothing, shoes, sanitary ware, toiletries, ablution facilities, stationery, manpower, medication, transport and other resources needed to run a human and safe remand prison.”
“Because of food shortage and lack of transport feeding is a challenge. Relatives who wish to feed their own are restricted by security considerations which are severely constrained now because of the excessive numbers,” said the lawyers.
The lawyers are offering a free service. â€” Own Correspondent.