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Zimbabwean Challenges Constitutionality of Life Imprisonment

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, strongly opposes the death penalty but has not said much about life imprisonment. (Collage by Ntungamili Nkomo)

A Zimbabwean has filed a case in the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of life imprisonment.

The Constitutional Court of Appeal today heard an application filed by Obediah Makoni, who was convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995 and now wants his sentence to be declared unconstitutional.

In his application, Makoni’s attorney Tendai Biti, told the court that sentencing a person to life in jail violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment as well as some sections of Zimbabwe’s constitution.

Biti said the Zimbabwean legal system did not provide for an independent review mechanism for those who would have been sentenced to life imprisonment unlike in other countries where there is a
judicial review of a prisoner’s case after 15 years.

But prosecutor Mike Chimombe opposed the application saying Zimbabwean law does not have a provision to review life sentences.

He said the constitutional provision for a presidential pardon was enough to cater for such review under the circumstances.

Chimombe said several prisoners, who had been jailed for life, were released following presidential pardons but this was challenged by Biti. He demanded that the state should give statistics to which the prosecutor failed.

Biti said presidential clemency alone was not enough and the president should not be given a leeway to determine how individual rights should be respected arguing that this was open to abuse.
Biti added that his client now wants to be immediately released from prison, arguing that his rights were violated through his long detention in conditions that are inhumane.

Chimombe, who said prison conditions were in a fair state, opposed Makoni’s application for immediate release.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and his bench reserved judgment indefinitely.

Several people were sentenced to life in jail after being convicted of various offenses but Studio 7 could not establish the exact number.

Biti recently helped two women, Ruvimbo Tsopodwa and Loveness Mudzuru, to challenge the constitutionality of early child marriages. The constitutional court outlawed child marriages decreeing that any person who intends to get married should be at least 18 years of age.

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