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Arbitrary arrests and detention of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) activists
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
October 24, 2003

22 October 2003
On the 22nd day of October 2003, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) which is a conglomerate of human rights organisations, labour, women’s groups, churches and political parties demonstrated in Harare, Zimbabwe against the Government of Zimbabwe for a new, home-grown and people driven constitution. Despite, the noble idea of clamouring for a new constitution more than 400 demonstrators were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) thereby violating their freedom of expression, association and assembly as enshrined in human rights instruments at national, regional and international levels. amongst those arrested were three journalists, Sam Sithole a photographer with Zimpapers, Blessing Zulu of the Independent Newspaper, and Takunda Maodza from Zimpapers as well. The arrest of National Constitutional Assembly activists demonstrates Government of Zimbabwe’s continued onslaught against human rights defenders and journalists. The right to organise is continuously curtailed. The National Constitutional Assembly activists were previously arrested on 17 September 2003 when they organised a similar demonstration.


The NCA members were arrested for lobbying and advocating for a new democratic peoples constitution. They were also protesting against the collapse of the economy and the failure by the government to deal with the severe economic decay and the resultant hardships especially on the silent majority. The arrest of Dr Madhuku and NCA members has become routine and seems to strangely give the authorities some sadistic pleasure. The right to freedom of association, expression, movement and assembly are universally recognised and Zimbabwe has signed and ratified a number of international treaties that secure these rights. These rights are also provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Sadly Zimbabwe has consistently failed to leave up to its commitments to its citizens and the international community when it comes to the enjoyment of these universal rights and fundamental freedoms.One issue of grave concern to ZimRights is that when human rights lawyers appeared at Harare Central Police station where Dr Madhuku and others were detained, the police were completely uncooperative in that among other things according to a statement issued by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights1,
  • The police manhandled human rights lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa and Arnold Tsunga and pushed them out of the police station. A woman officer was deployed at the entrance to physically prevent Beatrice Mtetwa from re entering the police station. This is the second time when Ms Beatrice Mtetwa has been subjected to such degrading treatment with a space of ten days.2
  • When other human rights lawyers Alec Muchadehama, Jacob Mafume, Lawrence Chibwe and 5 others also turned up at the Police Station, they were initially also pushed out of the police station by the riot squad who advised that they were instructed by a senior policeman named Officer Dengu not to allow any lawyer to see the NCA members.
  • The riot squad thereafter maintained a presence at the police station’s entrance physically preventing any lawyers from having access to the charge office to represent the NCA members.
  • When lawyers now led by Advocate Gijima were eventually allowed access into the charge office, Chief Superintendent Madzingo flatly refused to allow lawyers access to the detainees and ordered one officer Dowa to remove the lawyers from the law and order section of the police force which Dowa promptly did.
  • After over 5 hours of waiting the human rights lawyers left Harare Central Police Station without having been allowed access to their clients, let alone to even see them.

There was a case of selective application of the law when the two journalists from the government sponsored Zimpapers were released without charges when their editor came to pick them up and also upon the police’s realisation that they work for the government controlled media. The journalists from independent media are always treated harshly than those from the government controlled media. None of the two journalists had accreditation papers.

The ZimRights National Chairperson Mr Arnold Tsunga was physically manhandled by a police detail when he attempted to assist the detained demonstrators. This took place on the 22nd day of October 2003. This is not the first time that the police and other law enforcement agents have refused to allow suspects access to their lawyers. Such conduct by the police is unlawful and undermines the due administration of justice and the rule of law. It must be stopped. The attitude of the police to the lawyers which continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate in Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming an issue of serious concern to the lawyers given that it is not possible to administer justice in an environment where law enforcement agents will not cooperate with lawyers and refuse to accept the rights of lawyers to have unimpeded access to their clients. The rule of law will not work in this type of environment.

The demonstrators are being released today (23rd) upon payment of ZW$5 000-00 as admission of guilt under the Miscelleneous Offences Act, Section 19 and 24. On previous arrests (17 September, 2003), arrested NCA activists were charged under the same Miscelleneous Offences Act though under different sections. ZimRights is extremely concerned that the Miscelleneous Offences Act is continuously being used to undermine due process of the law and is also used to conceal the unprofessional conduct of the police of arresting first and investigating later and arresting when there is no reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed. Such conduct amounts to extortion as detainees are forced to buy their freedom since they would not want to sleep for another night in the police cells. The NCA activists want the police to investigate and prove a case against them beyond any reasonable doubt.

ZimRights is concerned about the police’s conduct of arrest of arresting and then investing later. It is also worried that the police are deliberately using the Miscellaneous Offences Act to harass human rights defenders. No wonder why lawyers are contemplating challenging the continued abuse of the Miscellaneous Offences Act to justify arbitrary arrests and detention.

24 October 2003
The Chairman of National Constitutional Assembly, Dr Lovemore Madhuku was not released or allowed to pay a fine by last night (23/10/03).

During the morning of 24 October 2003, Dr Lovemore Madhuku was placed on remand on Z$10 000.00 bail. He is to appear in the magistrates court on Monday 27 October 2003. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of opposition, MDC will also be in court on Monday 27th facing high treason charges. The court premises will undoubtedly be filled with anxiety and tension as two main characters fighting for political pluralism are drawn before the courts. He is being charged under Section 24:6 of Public Order and Maintenance Act. The preferred charges under POSA section refers to organising illegal demonstration or gathering without police clearance.

It is important to note that under POSA, if a demonstration is conducted and becomes violent leading into the destruction of property, the organizers are therefore liable for damages arising from the demonstration. A case to note is when property was destroyed during the MDC organized ‘Final Push’ demonstrations – the Department of Information and Publicity carried out a massive educational campaign encouraging those whose property was destroyed to sue the organizers (MDC) for the recovery of damages. This is the reason why Dr Madhuku by virtue of his Chairmanship with the National Constitutional Assembly is being drawn before the courts to represent his organization as ‘the organisers’.

Lawyers representing Dr Madhuku are currently filing a complaint against the police for battering, ill treatment in custody and verbal abuse.

Meanwhile the National Constitutional Assembly has called for a Press Conference (24/10/03) at three o’clock GMT.

ZimRights is concerned with the growing trend and pattern with regard to pre-trial detention that under Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act the minimum period of detention of 48 hours before being brought to a judge may be extended – this practice is incompatible with Article 9 of the ICCPR. This practice by the Zimbabwe law enforcement agencies provides opportunity for ill treatment, abuse and intimidation of detainees. There is concern that the prison and police holding cell conditions are deplorable and pose a health risk to detainees – this has resulted in outbreak of diseases due to overcrowding and lack of maintenance. Many detainees in such situations as the case with NCA activists rather opt to pay an admission of guilt than to remain held in over-crowded and squalid conditions.

ZimRights calls upon the Zimbabwe Republic Police to cease taking political orders and respect the people’s rights to demonstrate for a noble cause. A new, home grown and people driven constitution is long over due in Zimbabwe. ZimRights believes that the current constitution is to a substantial extent responsible for the economic and political turmoil in the country.

1 Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights press statement
2 Beatrice Mtetwa a human rights lawyer was manhandled and assaulted by a police detailed on 12/10/03

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