State ordered to upgrade holding cells

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the State to ensure that detention cells at Harare Central Police Station are upgraded to ensure that basic hygienic conditions were met.

Jenni Williamns
Jenni Williamns

The highest court said the State must allow female detainees to keep their undergarments and wear suitable footwear, in addition to the provision of adequate and clean water.

WOZA leaders, Jenni Williamns, Magondonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani and Clara Manjengwa, through their lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Dzimbabwe Chimbga and Belinda Chinowawa, petitioned the Supreme Court seeking an order compelling the government to ensure that holding cells at Harare Central Police Station met basic hygiene requirements.

WOZA cited the then co-Ministers of Home Affairs: Theresa Makone, Police Commissioner-General, Augustine Chihuri and the former Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, as the respondents.

The WOZA leaders petitioned the court following their arrest and detention in 2011 for demonstrating against government’s failure to adhere to human rights under conditions that constituted inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Section 15 (1) of the old constitution.

“It is declared that the applicant’s rights in terms of section 23 of the Constitution not to be discriminated against have been violated,” read the ruling.

“The applicant’s rights in terms of Section 15 of the Constitution to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment have been violated. Every person detained shall have access at all times to wholesome drinking water from a source other than the tap above the toilet,” it added.

The petitioners demanded that police cells at Harare Central Police Station be cleaned and resourced with toilet paper and washing bowls. They also wanted the police to provide clean mattresses and adequate blankets, in addition to bath water and shower installations, for each detainee.

“Every person detained in police custody overnight shall be furnished with a clean mattress and adequate blankets,” ruled the Supreme Court. The activists’ demand for detainees to have access to safe and sufficient drinking water was also granted.

The five-judge panel of Justice Vernanda Ziyambi, Rita Makarau, Paddington Garwe, Yunus Omerjee and Anne- Mary Gowora in June 2012 heard arguments from both the WOZA leaders’ lawyers and the State during the constitutional challenge and reserved judgment.

The ZLHR reported that five Supreme Court Judges nearly fell on the slippery floors of Harare Central Police Station as a result of tailored polishing of the floors to give a facade of improved cell conditions during an inspection of the police lockups which they conducted in June 2012 to ascertain the state of their conditions.

In 2005, the Supreme Court condemned police cells at Matapi and Highlands police stations as degrading and inhuman and unfit for holding criminal suspects.

The Supreme Court’s ruling followed an application filed by ZLHR on behalf of former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) Secretary General, Wellington Chibebe, and a citizen, Nancy Kachingwe, after they were detained at the two filthy holding cells.

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