LEGAL think-tank, Veritas, has said prisoners, whose death sentences have been commuted to life in prison may also be eligible for early release on parole.
Veritas, which has been advocating for the abolition of the death penalty, said the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruled in 2016 during the Makoni versus the Commissioner of Prisons and another case, that prisoners on death sentences can be considered for early release.
“Prisoners whose death sentences have been commuted may be eligible for early release on parole,” Veritas said.
“The ConCourt ruled it unconstitutional for life prisoners to be denied the right to be considered for early release under section 115 of the Prisons Act,” they said.
Veritas said the section (115 of the Prisons Act) has not yet been amended to comply with the court’s ruling, adding that even before such an amendment, life prisoners must be considered for early release.
On March 10, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed Clemency Order No 1 of 2018, which commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, and granting it to all prisoners, who have been on death row for 10 years and above.
“The clemency order is a welcome step, albeit a small one, towards abolition of the death penalty. No executions have been carried out in Zimbabwe since 2005, so there is an effective moratorium on the death penalty, which is likely to continue for as long as the President, known to favour abolition, remains in office. In view of this it seems not only cruel but futile for the courts to continue sentencing people to death,” Veritas said.
On the clemency order, they said it now meant that all inmates on death row, who were sentenced to death before March 10, 2008, no longer face execution, but will serve life imprisonment instead.
“Section 48 of the Constitution allows a law to provide for the death penalty; it does not say the law must do so. Hence abolition would not entail amending the Constitution; it just needs simple Act of Parliament removing references to the death penalty from the criminal law code and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.”
Veritas have also provided the Justice minister with a draft Bill to abolish the death penalty, which is deemed cruel, inhuman and barbaric punishment.
Apart from commuting death sentences, the clemency order benefited about 3 000 prisoners.