Anti-Govt Protest Cases Crumble
Nine Harare and Chegutu residents have been set free after being hauled before the courts on charges of committing public violence for allegedly participating in last year’s anti-government demonstrations protesting against a clampdown on pro-democracy campaigners, abductions and attempts to amend the Constitution.
First to be acquitted on Wednesday 8 September 2021 were Edward Dzekwa, the MDC-Alliance Councillor for Ward 9 and the opposition political party supporter Isheunesu Chimunyemba, who were set free by Chegutu Magistrate Noah Gwatidzo after a full trial.
Councillor Dzekwa and Chimunyemba, who had been out of custody on bail, had been on trial after they were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers in July 2020 and charged with contravening section 37(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breach of the peace or bigotry.
The duo was also charged with unnecessary movement during a national lockdown as defined in Section 4(1)(a) of the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order 2020, Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020.
However, Magistrate Gwatidzo acquitted Dzekwa and Chimunyemba, who were represented by Douglas Chikwangwani of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), after ruling that the State failed to prove the alleged case against them and that State witnesses, who were police officers gave inconsistent evidence during trial, which could not convince him that they were telling the truth.
On Friday 10 September 2021, Harare Magistrate Stanford Mambanje set free lawyer and opposition MDC-Alliance party spokesperson Advocate Fadzayi Mahere together with six other Harare residents namely Tinotenda Muskwe, Tinashe Murapata, Jessica Drury, Nyasha Musandu, Josse Lotter and Simon Drury after ruling that there had been an inordinate passage of time without commencement of their trial.
Mahere, Musandu, Muskwe, Murapata, Drury, Lotter and Drury had been on remand for more than one year after they were arrested by ZRP officers on 31 July 2020 and charged with participating in a public gathering with intention to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry as defined in Section 37(1)(b) of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Mahere, Muskwe, Murapata, Drury, Musandu, Lotter and Drury were also charged with unnecessary movement during the COVID-19 National Lockdown without any exemption with prosecutors pressing a charge of contravening section 4(1)(a) of the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order Statutory Instrument 77/2020.
They were accused of participating in an illegal demonstration in Harare’s Mt Pleasant suburb while holding some placards written “Free Zim”, “#Free MDC Trio”, “#Stop abductions” and “#Hands off Constitution”.
On Friday 10 September 2021, Magistrate Mambanje ruled that there is no prejudice to be suffered by the State as it can still summon the seven Harare residents to appear in court if it intends to prosecute them.
The ruling came after the Harare residents, who were represented by Chris Mhike of ZLHR and David Drury of Honey & Blanckenberg Legal Practitioners, argued that there had been an inordinate passage of time without commencement of trial and that there has been significant prejudice suffered by the seven people as a result of excessive delay to commence trial.
The lawyers also argued that there are risks to the health and life of the seven Harare residents as a result of frequent remand court appearances and the non-readiness of the State to commence trial.