Police torture under Supreme Court spotlight

HARARE - A year after Nyanga MDC activists including national spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora were held incommunicado in police custody and tortured, a Supreme Court review into whether their rights were violated during the detention opened at the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Mwonzora, who is MP for Nyanga North, was present in the court in a case in which he and 32 other activists want the Supreme Court to declare their ill-treatment in custody including being denied access to food and lawyers a flagrant violation of their constitutional rights.

The MDC activists’ claim they were viciously assaulted by police before the tables turned and they were charged with assault.

Headman Rwisai Nyakauru later died reportedly from wounds sustained during the torture.

Nyakauru, who was 82, was arrested on February 14 last year at the Taziwa Hotel.

He was viciously assaulted in one of the rooms before he was taken into police custody.

Narrating his custody ordeal along with the late headman, Mwonzora said they were shackled and denied medication by authorities in violation of their constitutional rights.

They also spent three weeks behind bars after the State kept invoking Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA).

Nyanga magistrate Ignatio Mhene granted an application filed by the defence lawyers seeking to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for a determination on possible violation of their rights during their arrest and period of detention.

On Thursday, the much awaited case got off to a stuttering start as the Supreme Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, determined that lawyers representing the 33 MDC activists had not furnished the court with adequate details to warrant the court to proceed.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba granted the defence’s application to postpone the trial to a later date in order to assemble the necessary documents.

Malaba said the matter had been postponed to allow the counsel to provide affidavits that detail the alleged torture “before proceeding with the main case”.

Malaba had earlier on rapped the defence counsel for doing a “shoddy” job in failing to adequately prepare necessary documents that would enable the court to make a reasonable judgement.

“As we seat as a court we don’t know what happened. We don’t know about the violence. The charges are not here and we don’t even know what happened,” said Malaba.

Malaba said judges are not omniscient and therefore require lawyers to provide details to enable them to make an informed decision.

It has taken more than a year for the villagers to have their day in court.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyer Jeremiah Bamu, who is representing the 33, wants the Supreme Court’s full bench to determine whether or not the assaults, torture and denial of medical attention to their clients constitute inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Section 15 (1) of the Constitution.

Bamu wants the Supreme Court to determine whether or not the raising of Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) (Chapter 9:07) against their clients denied them their protection by the law and infringed on their right to liberty in a manner that is not reasonably justified in a democratic society.

Further, he wants the court to determine whether or not in raising Section 121 (3) of the CPEA, the State acted in bad faith and thereby contravening Section 18 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

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