"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rights Lawyers Hope to Outlaw Death Penalty in Zimbabwe

Prisoners in Harare Central Prison, Zimbawe
Prisoners in Harare Central Prison, Zimbawe
Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court began its year Wednesday with a request from 15 death row prisoners for their sentences to be commuted. Rights lawyers are hoping the death penalty will be outlawed in Zimbabwe this year.

The lawyer for the 15 said they have been waiting for their executions for periods ranging between 4 and 20 years.

All have been convicted of murder or treason, which carry capital sentences in Zimbabwe.

Their lawyer, former Zimbabwe finance minister Tendai Biti, said after this case is over he wants the death penalty completely outlawed. "When someone has been sentenced to death, he cannot be subjected to death row for so long and wait for so many years on death row.We are saying that is unconstitutional.

We would want to challenge the death penalty. And I believe we will do so this year, once parliament passes amendments to Criminal and Evidence Act. We do not believe in the death penalty," he said."You can also see that some of the judges do not believe in it, including the minister of justice who is now vice president who does not believe in it. They just have not had the courage to simply say, 'Let us outlaw it.'"

The vice president Biti refers to is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who opposes the death penalty.

In 2013, Mnangagwa said he would "rather resign than sign certificates for executions." "We have 89 people on death row. 2 of them are women. They are lucky, I did not sign the papers for their execution. At the end of the day, we have commuted [their sentences] to life imprisonment," he explained.

Since those comments, the number of prisoners awaiting execution has risen to more than 100.

Biti said a ban on the death penalty must come from the courts, instead of depending on the benevolence of 1 politician.

On Wednesday, he argued that Zimbabwe's constitution protects everyone, including convicted prisoners, against torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

He said the long periods his clients have spent in prison, never knowing when they might be hanged, amount to such punishment. Death-row prisoners in Zimbabwe are not told in advance of the date and time of their execution.

Source: Voice of America News, January 13, 2016


117 Zimbabwe inmates on death row

The 14 inmates are seeking an order to have their cases remitted for resentencing so that their sentences can be commuted to life sentences.

Zimbabwe has 117 inmates on death row at a time the country does not have a hangman, a situation that has left a number of the condemned prisoners subjected to psychological torture as a result of the delays in carrying out the executions. This was revealed at the Constitutional Court in Harare Wednesday where Shadreck Chawira and 14 others are challenging the constitutionality of their continued incarceration while they await the hangman's noose.

Harare Central Prison is the only prison designed for death row inmates but some of the prisoners sentenced to death were now being kept at Chikurubi Maximum Prison because of shortage of space, the court heard.

Justice Luke Malaba, leading a full bench of the Constitutional Court, reserved judgment on the case.

The 14 inmates are seeking an order to have their cases remitted for resentencing so that their sentences can be commuted to life sentences.

The lawyer for the inmates, Tendai Biti, told the court that his clients had been on the death row for periods ranging from 3 to 21 years and had suffered enough punishment that there was no need for them to be executed.

He said their continued incarceration was in violation of sections 51 and 53 of the Constitution and infringed on their rights to life and human dignity, which were the most important in the Bill of Rights.

Biti said he had 14 separate affidavits from the inmates explaining the conditions in prisons and the psychological torture that they suffered as a result of their placement on death row.

Given that his clients had served lengthy prison terms with various problems associated with incarceration in Zimbabwean prisons, Biti submitted that the correct remedy was to for the court to declare unconstitutional the continued incarceration and the blanket imposition of the life sentence.

"The court can make any order which is in the interest of justice... refer back to the High Court or resentencing taking into account the delay and what would have taken place over the years," he said.

State Counsel Olivia Zvedi said the severity of the crimes committed by the applicants warranted the treatment they were getting from the State, including being kept in solitary confinement for more than 20 hours per day.

Biti later told journalists that he would soon be challenging the death penalty as it was discriminatory and unequal.

"We would like to challenge the death penalty and we believe we will do so this year once parliament has passed amendments to the Criminal Procedures Amendment Act," he said.

"Some of the judges also don't believe in the death sentence. The fact of the matter is that there are some people, like the Minister of Justice, now the vice president, who feel that it is not right, they just don't have the courage to say let us outlaw it .The Constitution itself is discriminatory, women cannot be executed but men can be. Anything that is discriminatory and unequal is unconstitutional."

Source: African News Agency, January 13, 2016

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