Prisoners’ voting rights: Judge reserves ruling

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HIGH Court judge Justice Clement Phiri yesterday reserved judgment in a case where two prisoners sought to be granted the right to vote in the month-end polls.

BY CHARLES LAITON

Two jailed MDC-T activists Tungamirai Madzokere and Last Maengahama, who are serving a 20-year prison term each for killing a police officer, had petitioned the court last month demanding that they be allowed to exercise their voting rights.

In their application, the inmates were seeking an order compelling Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba to register them on the national voters’ roll and facilitate their voting on election day.

In their submissions, Madzokere and Maengahama argued that since their incarceration, Zec had neither carried out any voter education, including voter registration, nor enabled prisoners to cast their vote during the several by-elections which were held in the country.

“We are approaching this court today to assert our constitutional rights particularly the right to vote in elections and referendums as enshrined in section 67(3)(a) of the Constitution,” they said.

“While we principally approach this court to protect our own interest as prisoners, we are mindful of the fact that the relief we seek herein is of significant public interest and will also be of benefit to that class of persons who may be in detention during any electoral period. As a result, the relief we seek will, as a matter of consequences, also have general application.”

But Ziyambi, through the Attorney-General’s Office, said the prisoners’ application was misplaced, as they did not raise the issue of being denied the right to register as voters.

“In the present application, there is no allegation that the applicants (prisoners) were denied authority to go and register as voters. Their cause of action should have been that they requested and were denied authority to go and register as voters . . . the application is, thus, premature as it is premised on the wrong assumption that they are disqualified from voting when, in fact, there is no legal impediment, thereby making this application purely speculative and premature,” Ziyambi said.

“. . . the state of the law is very clear and it is, thus, totally unnecessary, if not irrelevant for the court, to grant the requested declaration. The law is clear and it is just a question of logistics that need to be worked out. These are purely administrative issues and do not require a declaratory relief.”

The prisoners were represented by human rights lawyer Jeremiah Bamu.