Death row inmates in Zimbabwe ask for life sentences instead

AP News
Posted: Jan 14, 2016 11:36 AM

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Inmates who have spent years on death row in Zimbabwe's prisons approached the country's highest court on Wednesday in a bid to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court heard the accounts of 15 inmates, some of whom have been waiting to be executed for 18 years.

"Because of the torture we have been subjected to whilst waiting for a long time on death row, it will be unconstitutional to execute us," Cuthbert Chawira, a murder convict on death row for 15 years, said in an affidavit submitted in court. Prison guards regularly taunt inmates about their imminent executions, he said.

Vice President and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is in charge of authorizing executions, refuses to sign any execution orders for Zimbabwe's nearly 100 death row inmates due to his personal objections to the death penalty. While Zimbabwean law allows capital punishment, no one has been executed in the county since 2005 because there was no qualified executioner until 2013. The death penalty is only handed down to men convicted of murder.

The inmates' lawyer, Tendai Biti, described Zimbabwe's harsh prison conditions, saying they only added to his clients' woes.

"There are no newspapers or tissues in these toilets and sometimes prisoners resort to using the Bible as toilet roll," Biti told the court. "The prisons are cold and lifeless."

Rights group Amnesty International has urged the southern African country to do away with the death penalty completely.