IN March 2004, Simon Mann, a British f ormer Special Air Service (SAS) officer and mercenary led a group of 64 mainly South African mercenaries in an attempt to seize control of Equatorial Guinea by overthrowing its president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema M’basogo and installing Severo Moto, an opposition leader living in exile in Madrid. The coup failed before it got off the ground when the plotters were arrested at Harare International Airport.
Mann is one known person who was remanded at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare. He spent four years in remand on firearms and public order charges, which are very serious crimes. But seeing images of a colleague, Hopewell Chin’ono in leg irons at Chikurubi prison, which is notorious for its harsh conditions and dangerous inmates is cruel and malicious. What is even more mindboggling is the decision by Harare Magistrate Ngoni Nduna to treat Chin’ono as a dangerous and violent criminal when he ruled that the bail application yesterday be held in camera to protect the security of prison officers and other inmates.
The journalist, arrested on July 20, is accused of using social media to incite Zimbabweans to stage violent protests on July 31, but his lawyers argue he was targeted for exposing corruption.
In an unprecedented move, the state sought yesterday to bar his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing him.
Moving Chin’ono and Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume, the organiser of the July 31 protests, from remand prison to a maximum security prison is an injustice and a violation of the country’s Constitution and The Prisons Act.
The Prisons Act demands that a prisoner, who has not been convicted and awaiting trial, should be separated from convicted felons. This is why the State ordinarily detains different categories of prisoners at different facilities, for instance, prisoners on remand at Harare Remand Prison for males, Chikurubi prison for convicted serious offenders and Harare Central Prison for prisoners convicted of offences that are not serious. It is highly unusual, if not outright unjust, for a remand prisoner to be detained at a facility that is designed for convicts.
The Constitution stipulates that people not convicted are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Accordingly, where detention is warranted, they must be treated on the most lenient of terms, in a fair and just manner.
The Bill of Rights in the Zimbabwe Constitution and various international legal instruments dictate that all people, including prisoners, must be treated humanely, with dignity, and be afforded all the fundamental rights that are known at domestic and international law. That Chin’ono is being treated unjustly for speaking out and exposing corruption is a gross violation of freedom of expression and speech.
Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s basic rights have been trampled on by the State, and the authorities have completely failed to abide by the tenets of the rule of law.