The Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), which has won several international human rights awards, want the court to order responsible authorities to ensure that the police holding cells at Harare Central Police Station have clean and salubrious flushing toilets with toilet paper and a washing bowl.
The application was filed by WOZA leaders Jenny Williams, her deputy Magondonga Mahlangu, Clara Majengwa and Celina Madukani.
WOZA want the cells closed until a time when there have been renovated to include running water and bathing showers.
The four women, together with a band of their followers, spent several days at Harare Central Police holding cells in April this year after being arrested for staging an unauthorised demonstration in the city centre in protest of the unilateral hiking of electricity charges by the Zimbabwe Electricity Power Supply (ZESA).
The two core ministers of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi and Teresa Makone, are the first respondents while the police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Attorney General Johannes Tomana are second and third respondents respectively in the matter.
In their application the women activists want the courts to order that flushing toilets be cordoned off from the main cell to ensure privacy, the cells at Harare Central Police Station be cleaned daily with soap and detergents, and that a good standard of hygiene should be maintained in the police holding cells.
They are further demanding that each person detained in police custody overnight be furnished with a clean mattress and adequate blankets, adequate bathing or shower installations be provided so that persons detained in custody may be able to bath and that every person detained in the holding cells be given access at all times to sufficient drinking water suitable for consumption.
They also want women and girls detained at the police holding cells be provided with sanitary wear or be permitted to purchase such necessary items with their own money, the holding cells be equipped with a disposal mechanism to ensure that women in detention are able to safely and hygienically dispose of their sanitary wear as well as that women detained in police custody be allowed to keep on their shoes and under garments.
It is also WOZA’s demand that persons detained at the holding cells be given daily exposure to natural light and appropriate ventilation and heating and that police officers at Harare Central Police station be refrained from arbitrary searching and seizing possessions of persons detained in custody.
The activists want Mohadi, Makone and Chihuri interdicted from holding any persons at the police cells at Harare Central Police Station until the place has been revamped.
They further want the ministers and Chihuri to be directed to submit to the High Court, within three weeks from this week, a clear programme of action on the steps and timeframes it would take in ringing changes at the condemned holding cells.
In her affidavit Williams said of her ordeal at the holding cells:
“The conditions of the cells at Harare Central Police Station were so sordid as to constitute an affront to human dignity, as they are not the inevitable consequence of the operation and administration of police holding cells, but are a result of gross police negligence, and unwillingness to comply with minimum standards of human decency,” said Williams.
“The conditions at the holding cells are not only inhuman and degrading, but are calculated to induce despondency, and frustration, and are therefore a form of pre-trial punishment, in the absence of a court order to that effect,” she added.