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On 16 January 2014, Plaintiff Ricky Nathanson was arrested and taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station. The two men who called the police initially tried to extort money from her because she was a transgender woman, and after their attempt failed, they called the police, who arrested her.

During the arrest, she was presented as a man masquerading as a woman, and her photographs were taken by members of the public and the press. At the police station, police officers allegedly ordered her to lower her pants to verify her gender. She was later taken to United Bulawayo Hospital for a “gender verification” examination without her prior knowledge or consent. On 17 January 2014, she was taken to Mpilo Central Hospital for further “Gender verification” without her prior knowledge or consent.

On 18 January 2014, she was taken to Court and charged with criminal nuisance for “entering a female toilet when she was a man”. On 4 November 2015, the charges against her were terminated because there was no clear cut offence.

High Court

On 14 November 2019, The High Court gave judgement in the matter. It noted that Plaintiff’s arrest was unlawful and malicious as there was no record of the offence the Plaintiff was charged with being a crime. She was arrested without a warrant. Further, at the time of her arrest and detainment, the police did not know the offence she had committed. This contradicted the position of the law where the arrest of a suspect is concerned.

The Court also found the actions of the police in asking the Plaintiff to expose her genitalia to amount to inhumane and degrading treatment, and the conduct of the police in referring her for gender verification examinations without her consent or prior knowledge speaks to serious violations of her constitutional rights by the police.

The police had a duty to ensure her arrest was both lawful and devoid of malice. Their failure to do so meant they could not escape liability and their conduct was outrageous as they abused their discretion in arresting her.

The Court awarded her damages of $100 000 for unlawful arrest, $100 000 for malicious prosecution and $200 000 for emotional distress.

The Court stated that “Transgender citizens are part of the Zimbabwean society. Their rights ought to be recognised like those of other citizens. Our constitution does not provide for their discrimination. It is nothing but delusional thinking to wish away the rights of transgender people. To avoid the recurrence of what happened to the Plaintiff in this case, it might be prudent to construct unisex toilets as an addition to the resting rooms in public places.”

News release
18 Nov 2019 – Zimbabwe High Court awards damages in ground breaking judgment in favour of Ricky Nathanson.

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