Crime & Courts

Inmates narrate Remand Prison horror, trash new virtual courts system

INMATES housed at Harare Remand Prison are living under heartrending conditions exacerbated by alleged corruption among officials handling their issues, a situation they have described as a quandary.

During a tour held by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in commemoration of 12 years of existence, inmates took the chance to grieve before chief magistrate Faith Mushure raising a number of complaints.

The JSC team intended to educate the inmates about the recently launched virtual courts but the inmates were instead more concerned about their welfare.

The main complaint was that they were being held for too long without trial, with some having spent over a decade awaiting prosecution.

This has resulted in overcrowding as the facilities were designed to house a limited number of inmates.

Mushure was told that there are now over 800 inmates in D-class, which is a section for the most dangerous criminals.

It has also emerged that about 400 inmates were arrested for drug abuse, with some claiming that they have spent over 10 months in jail over a sachet of dagga.

One of the suspects, well known armed robber Musa Taj Abdul complained that his fate had already been decided before trial.

“I was at the High court recently, my bail application was simply thrown away by Justice Munamato Mutevedzi who blankly called me a dangerous criminal.

“He could not even consider that I was making an application based on changed circumstances, so it is very difficult for armed robbery suspects like us,” he said.

Abdul also indicated that the introduction of electronic courts was rushed because the inmates have no access to the internet at the prison.

Another inmate complained that suspects were being held over petty crimes while real criminals go scot-free.

“Can the issue of drug suspects be looked into. We are now numbering between 300 and 400 and it is sad that some are being held over a sachet worth US$2 and have been in jail for the past 10 months,” he said.

Some of the suspects qualify for bail but have no means to raise the quantum ordered by courts.

Those who have spent several years in remand prison queried how the JSC will compensate for the lost time.

“The JSC should do something about the time we spend here without trial. It will not make sense if I will be sentenced to five years imprisonment after having spent 10 years on remand, in holding without trial.

“If it is about manpower, JSC should simply employ, there are many learned people out there,” said another inmate.

He also complained that inmates are housed together with those with mental illness, asthma, Tuberculosis, and epilepsy among other conditions.

Another inmate who is being charged with murder has been at the facility for the past eight years.

His trial started before High Court judge Justice Happias Zhou in 2015 but justice is yet to be served.

“You drive in luxury cars yet we do not even have a photocopying machine. How will that electronic system work? We have been neglected like that. I have been in jail for the past eight years and according to the Prisons Act it means I have been in jail for about 17 years. Who is going to compensate for that time?

“Surely speaking, this is no longer a holding centre but a jail,”he said.

Another inmate, Farai Nyamurenje said he has never seen the outside world for the past 10 years and still awaits trial.

Other inmates demanded that Chief Justice Luke Malaba should go and explain if the country’s constitution has changed because the prevailing situation is opposite what is provided for by the law.

Other inmates challenged the decision that their cases will be electronically managed by a prison officer.

“It is more prudent if inmates do it for themselves. We are not prisoners yet.”

Chief magistrate Faith Mushure assured the inmates that they are important stakeholders adding that all their concerns will be addressed.

She said the fact that courts will be paperless means that there will be less hands on their dockets thereby minimising situations where dockets go missing among other things.

“We are going to get more information on that so that we can look into each and every  case . Today was an open day in which we were talking about the virtual courts but we also took it as an opportunity to hear their cases. Most of them have concerns about staying on remand for too long and these are issues we are going to respond to,” said Mushure.

She said they already have a system already in place with the ZPCS and they are going to cement it to ensure that the issues are addressed.

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