By Nyashadzashe Ndoro
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) spokesperson Meya Khanyezi has denied ill-treating incarcerated journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume and admitted that the two are being denied access to their legal counsel and food from their families.
In a statement, Khanyezi said the decision to suspend visits was meant to ensure the “incarcerated are protected from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“The Commissioner General is empowered to make standing orders and it is in terms of these standing orders that certain categories of prisoners can only have visitors within sight and hearing of prison officers. Transfer of inmates from one prison to another is entirely an administrative issue. ZPCS is not obligated to inform an inmate’s lawyers.
“The decision to suspend the visits was taken with the interest of offenders at heart. It is not a punitive measure but a temporary preventive action meant to ensure that the incarcerated are protected from the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected and killed a number of people worldwide.
“Although we have recorded cases in Beitbridge, Plumtree, Masvingo, Whawha and Bulawayo we have since put measures to curb the continuous spread of the disease in our prisons.
“This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognise the importance of family contact with the prison population.
“Our primary concern has to be public safety and reducing the number of people who enter our facilities is a key factor in limiting the potential spread of this illness into our prisoner population. The department will continue to monitor the situation to determine when visits will be restored.
“As ZPCS we also ensure that during the Covid-19 pandemic the human rights of all those who remain in detention are upheld while taking the specific needs of the most vulnerable detainees, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and juvenile detainees into account.
“Any restrictions imposed on detainees should be non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent,” Khanyezi added.
Chin’ono was arrested at his home on 20 July last month and accused of supporting calls by Ngarivhume for a planned protest against corruption on 31 July.
Ngarivhume was also arrested separately on the same day, but charged with Chin’ono and alleged to have contravened Section 187(1)(a) as read with section 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law [Codification and Reform] Act: “Incitement to participate in public violence.” Nehanda Radio