'I was forced to strip in police cells'

HARARE - A landmark case in which a man living with HIV wants the Supreme Court to assert the rights of prisoners has opened in Harare, with revelations that accused persons are at times  forced to strip naked while in detention.

Douglas Muzanenhamo, a rights activist who is living with HIV, was arrested and incarcerated together with academic and labour rights campaigner Munyaradzi Gwisai in 2011 on allegations of plotting to topple the government.

He has now brought a case to the Supreme Court — sitting as a Constitutional Court — arguing that his rights were infringed while in detention.

As the case opened yesterday, Muzanenhamo said he was subjected to inhuman treatment after he was forced to strip naked while in police cells.

He said he was also denied life prolonging drugs and now hopes the court will deliver a ruling which will help assert the rights of prisoners living with HIV and being denied access to treatment.

Muzanenhamo’s lawyer Zvikomborero Chadambuka told the court that his client was denied access to medication, placed in solitary confinement, denied access to communicate with his relatives on his cell phone after the mobile phone was “confiscated” by police officers and subjected to unnecessary indignity.

“Applicant was subjected to stripping. A strip of this nature will be unconstitutional. Forced nudity will be a violation of a constitutional right. A failure to supply a prisoner treatment amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Chadambuka.

He said it was toxic to deny Muzanenhamo access to medication even for a single day, considering his health condition.

The Supreme Court bench comprising of nine judges Godfrey Chidyausiku, Luke Malaba, Paddington Garwe, Bharat Patel, Vernanda Ziyambi, Anne-Marie Gowora, Ben Hlatshwayo, George Chiweshe and Antonia Guvava reserved ruling in the case.

In his application, Muzanenhamo cites the police officer-in-charge for the Law and Order section in Harare, commissioner-general of police Augustine Chihuri, co-Home Affairs ministers Theresa Makone and Kembo Mohadi, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Attorney General Johannes Tomana as respondents together with the officer-in-charge of Harare Central Prison, where he was incarcerated.

However, Tinei Dodo from the Attorney General’s office downplayed Muzanenhamo’s application and said police officers were unaware of his health condition.

Dodo said because police were disputing most of the issues raised by Muzanenhamo, the application was supposed to be dismissed.

He further told the court that police were acting according to standing orders as stated in the Police Act.

Muzanenhamo was arrested in February 2011 and charged with committing treason together with 44 other social justice, trade union and human rights activists, including Gwisai.

The State claimed they were plotting to topple the government using the same means employed in Egypt to oust dictator Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

The treason charges later collapsed.

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