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US embassy report says Zim prisoners face life-threatening jail conditions

HORIZONTAL

Zimstar News

The US embassy in Zimbabwe has released a damning report which chronicles the harsh and inhumane conditions prison inmates are subjected in the country.

The 2021 Report also accounts for massive acts of impunity and rights violations against citizens by the state under the Zanu PF-led administration.

Among some of the violations flagged out in the report are “life-threatening” prison conditions by authorities in the country.

Below are excerpts of the report touching on rampant disregard for prisoners’ rights by authorities.

HORIZONTAL

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, physical mistreatment of prisoners, lack of access to personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners. NGOs reported the use of excessive force but noted prison guards did not employ excessive force systematically. There were reports in September that prodemocracy activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was repeatedly strangled in his sleep by fellow inmates at Harare Central Prison, although he survived.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.

HORIZONTAL

The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS), responsible for maintaining prisons, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society, did not provide adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or personal protective equipment during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.

Detainees depended on family members for essential dietary needs. Those without family or community support were forced to rely on other detainees for survival, although in recent years prisoners identified as malnourished have received additional meals. If available at all, blankets and clothing were often unwashed and soiled. Lice were a common problem. Although detainees could be transported to hospitals for medical treatment, unsanitary conditions and cold winters led to severe and sometimes fatal medical conditions. Detainees who were denied bail were often held in severely overcrowded remand cells for multiple years while awaiting trial.

Women were an estimated 2.4 percent of all prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. Female inmates reported violence and sexual abuse. Despite support from NGOs, prison distribution of menstrual hygiene supplies was limited. Women often lacked access to pre- and postnatal care and emergency obstetric services. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.

There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys. Although the law stipulates juveniles should be sent to reformatory homes, authorities generally sent juveniles to prison as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles were vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners. In June the ZPCS opened a female prison for 30 inmates in Marondera that permits home visits to see minor children after serving half of a prison sentence. ZPCS stated this prison would accommodate up to 500 inmates at full capacity.

Prisoners with mental health issues were often held with other prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.

According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April 2020 to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, NGOs, contacts, and several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August 2020. In April the ZPCS Harare province commander announced another amnesty release of 400 of an estimated 22,000 prisoners. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were tested only when sent to nonremand prisons.

Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, personal protective equipment, and information about the virus. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding caused by the country’s protracted economic crisis.

The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms while incarcerated in August 2020 (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water collection systems.

Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.

Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.

Administration: The ZPCS inspections and audit unit, charged with assessing prison conditions and improving monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The US embassy in Zimbabwe has released a damning report which chronicles the harsh and inhumane conditions prisons inmates are subjected.

The 2021 Report also accounts for massive acts of impunity and rights violations against citizens by the state under the Zanu PF-led administration.

Among some of the violations flagged out in the report are “life-threatening” prison conditions by authorities in the country.

Below are excerpts of the report touching on rampant disregard for prisoners’ rights by authorities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, physical mistreatment of prisoners, lack of access to personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners. NGOs reported the use of excessive force but noted prison guards did not employ excessive force systematically. There were reports in September that prodemocracy activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was repeatedly strangled in his sleep by fellow inmates at Harare Central Prison, although he survived.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.

The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS), responsible for maintaining prisons, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society, did not provide adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or personal protective equipment during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.

Detainees depended on family members for essential dietary needs. Those without family or community support were forced to rely on other detainees for survival, although in recent years prisoners identified as malnourished have received additional meals. If available at all, blankets and clothing were often unwashed and soiled. Lice were a common problem. Although detainees could be transported to hospitals for medical treatment, unsanitary conditions and cold winters led to severe and sometimes fatal medical conditions. Detainees who were denied bail were often held in severely overcrowded remand cells for multiple years while awaiting trial.

Women were an estimated 2.4 percent of all prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. Female inmates reported violence and sexual abuse. Despite support from NGOs, prison distribution of menstrual hygiene supplies was limited. Women often lacked access to pre- and postnatal care and emergency obstetric services. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.

There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys. Although the law stipulates juveniles should be sent to reformatory homes, authorities generally sent juveniles to prison as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles were vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners. In June the ZPCS opened a female prison for 30 inmates in Marondera that permits home visits to see minor children after serving half of a prison sentence. ZPCS stated this prison would accommodate up to 500 inmates at full capacity.

Prisoners with mental health issues were often held with other prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.

According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April 2020 to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, NGOs, contacts, and several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August 2020. In April the ZPCS Harare province commander announced another amnesty release of 400 of an estimated 22,000 prisoners. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were tested only when sent to nonremand prisons.

Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, personal protective equipment, and information about the virus. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding caused by the country’s protracted economic crisis.

The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms while incarcerated in August 2020 (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water collection systems.

Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.

Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.

Administration: The ZPCS inspections and audit unit, charged with assessing prison conditions and improving monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown.

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