By Nation Reporter
PRISONERS in Zambia do not forfeit their fundamental rights when they walk into the gates of a jail, and so must be allowed to exercise their rights to vote in any given election, says Prisons Care and Counseling Association president Godfrey Malembeka.
Before Constitutional Court Justice Anne Sitali sitting with Ms Justice Mengeni Mulenga and Ms Justice Margaret Munalula, Dr Malembeka submitted that it was a basic right for prisoners, like other citizens to participate in the electoral process of any democracy.
He said although new in Zambia, the need for prisoners to be allowed to vote was a fundamental human right in choosing national leaders, even if some of their freedoms would have been curtailed due to incarceration.
“All forms of democratic governments are founded upon the right to vote, without which right democracy would not exist.
“Therefore, the rights of prisoners are not forfeited at the prison’s entrance, but rather they go with all their basic rights as human beings, including their right to vote,” he said.
Dr. Malembeka was before court to champion the rights of pre-trial remandees and those awaiting bail and appeals to vote in an election within prison facilities as a fundamental right.
He said of their failure to obtain bail for bailable offences or pending appeal for those convicted did not mean they should not vote or not be allowed to register as voters or obtain national registration cards while in incarceration.
He said Zambia must begin to embrace global trends and allow prisoners to participate in elections as practiced in some neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia among others.He said no ideas should be entertained that prisons did not have polling centres when they could be made available by an order of the Court as in the matter before it.Dr. Malembaka stated that prisons could be made into polling centres to allow for both registration of new voters and subsequent voting centres.
The PRISCCA boss, however, acknowledged submissions by the Attorney General ‘s office and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) that, in fact, they were in agreement of the proposal to allow prisoners to vote, and begged the court to scrap off Section 47 of the Constitution which barred those in incarceration to participate in elections. Judgment has since been reserved in the matter.