The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) delivered a petition to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to exercise his power of mercy and grant presidential pardon to prisoners as a way of reducing COVID-19 infections in prisons. The petition was hand delivered on 12 February around 1300 hours at the offices of the president in Harare.
“Clearly, the risk of COVID-19 spreading in our overcrowded prisons is too high. There are nearly 22 000 prisoners in Zimbabwe today against a total holding capacity of 17 000 and worryingly the government has no strategy in place to contain the spread of the virus. Granting of a presidential pardon is the right thing to right now to protect the vulnerable prisoners,” said Dr. Musa Kika, Executive Director at the Forum.
Sample tests carried out by prison authorities in January this year at Mutimurefu Prison in Masvingo Province showed that 110 inmates out of 150 that were tested were positive of COVID-19. This translates to nearly 75% of the sampled prisoners which spells a disaster if the sample is applied across the prison population.
Vulnerable inmates including those with pre-existing medical conditions; the elderly and juveniles have been identified as potential beneficiaries of the presidential pardon. Additionally, prisoners serving for petty offences and those that served a greater part of their sentences and do not pose grave danger to the community should be considered according to the Forum.
The petition also calls on the president to direct responsible government ministries and the National COVID-19 Taskforce to develop and publish a COVID-19 prevention and response strategy in prisons in line with regional best practices. The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is also expected to conduct an inquiry on the state of prisons, produce a report and devise a long-term strategy to address perennial problems affecting Zimbabwean prisons. Prison authorities in Zimbabwe have struggled to provide basic needs like water for consumption and bathing, standard ablution facilities, food and medical care for decades.
The Director of Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO), Mr Edison Chihota welcomed the petition and express confidence that the President would positively respond to this petition.
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum)