Harare (Mlondolozi Ndlovu – Correspondent) – Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairman, Elasto Mugwadi says the country must afford prison inmates the right to vote in national elections, in line with the country’s constitution.
He was speaking during a consultative meeting by the rights watchdog on the monitoring of prisons and mental health institutions in Harare on Thursday.
“We talk of the civil political rights, do our prisoners have a right to vote here, it is an issue which is at the very centre of my heart, why are they not allowed to, they should have an opportunity to go and vote,” Mugwadi said.
Zimbabwe’s electoral laws grant those who are 18 and above the right to vote.
However, since the country attained independence in 1980, the authorities have failed to extend franchise to prisoners.
The country’s broader opposition parties and civic groups have also been clamouring for prison inmates and all citizens regardless of their geographical locations to be afforded the right to cast their votes.
In his remarks, Mugwadi said delegates who attended the 10 year anniversary of the African Court in Arusha Tanzania last month agreed that Africa has to move away from the colonial attitudes of condemning and stripping prisoners of their fundamental rights.
“We are encouraging our counterparts in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to come up with administrative modalities to ensure that prisoners are allowed to exercise their right to vote in 2018,” he said.
ZHRC is a national human rights institution mandated with the promotion and protection of human rights.
The former immigration chief acknowledged the culture of violence and intimidation during the Norton by-election which was won by independent candidate Temba Mliswa.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an local independent election observer body, also reported of violence and electoral flaws in the recent Chimanimani by-election.
In the election, Zanu PF linked village heads and other traditional leaders were said to have been registering names of people who voted outside the polling stations in some wards.
“We encourage again all participants to abide by the constitutional provisions and the electoral laws of this country that when they are going about their business of electioneering, it should be in a peaceful manner,” Mugwadi said.
“They should not coerce anybody because people have a right to make their free choices and where there has been coercion and violence, we do recommend to the Commissioner of Police to investigate and bring them culprits to book.
“We were going to recommend a postponement of the Norton by-election but after speaking to all the candidates a day before polling day, they all agreed that everything had calmed down.”