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authorities must stop abusing the law to curtail the work of human
January 26, 2012
calls on the Zimbabwean government to end harassment and intimidation
of human rights activists and opponents of the government through
abuse of the law. Amnesty International's call follows a ruling
on Tuesday by a Gwanda magistrate to place three activists from
the Media Monitoring
Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) on further remand on charges of "undermining
the authority of or insulting the President" under sections
31 and 33 of the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The MMPZ advocacy
officers Fadzai December and Molly Chimhanda, and the organization's
Public Information Rights Forum committee chairman for Gwanda, Gilbert
before Gwanda magistrate Sheila Nazombe on 24 January facing three
charges of "knowingly failing to give notice of a gathering"
in terms of section 25 of the Public
Order and Security Act (POSA); "participating in a gathering
with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace, or
bigotry"; and, alternatively, "undermining the authority
of or insulting the President" under sections 37 and 33 of
Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, respectively. Through
their lawyer, the activists applied for refusal of further remand.
They argued that there was no reasonable suspicion that any crimes
had been committed. The court ruled in their favour with regard
to the first two charges, but placed them on further remand on the
charges of insulting the President. The activists will appear at
Gwanda Magistrates Court for routine remand on 7 February.
and 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act have been
used to silence legitimate criticism of President Robert Mugabe's
rule and violate the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in
Zimbabwe's own constitution and under international law.
against the trio arose after they facilitated a civic education
workshop aimed at promoting public information rights in Gwanda
on 24 November 2011.They were arrested on 5 December 2011 at Gwanda
police station, Matabeleland South Province. Police had requested
them to report at the station to "answer questions"
in relation to the November meeting. They were accompanied by their
lawyers when they reported at the police station and were immediately
arrested and charged. When they appeared in court on 9 December
they were granted bail of $50 each, with no reporting conditions.
However the state prosecutor invoked Section 121 of the Criminal
Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) to suspend the bail order.
Section 121 of the CPEA permits a further seven-day detention, allowing
the state to lodge an appeal against bail with a higher court. In
almost all the politically motivated prosecutions documented by
Amnesty International the state either failed to lodge its appeal
or had its appeal dismissed by the courts.
call also follows another case this week in Masvingo where another
Magistrate court acquitted Mr Joel Hita, the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association's (ZimRights) Masvingo regional
chairperson and his organization who were facing charges under POSA
for organizing a photo
exhibition in April 2010 which was stopped by police. The photographs
violence and torture that followed the March 2008 elections.
Mr Hita and ZimRights were acquitted
by a magistrate court in Masvingo on Monday.
two other human rights activists, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu
of the Women of
Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are facing spurious charges of kidnapping
and theft. The WOZA activists' case was postponed to 3 February.
is concerned about the systematic abuse of POSA and politically
motivated arrests and prosecutions in Zimbabwe. These violations
appear to be calculated to frustrate the work of civil society organizations
and former opposition parties now part of the Government
of National Unity (GNU).
is also concerned about the failure by the prosecution authorities
in Zimbabwe to respect the right to a fair trial for suspects in
politically motivated prosecutions. In particular, the organization
is concerned about the unjustified invocation of Section 121 of
the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to prolong the detention
of activists who have been granted bail by the courts.
activist has been convicted, the charges create uncertainty within
civil society and directly impact on the operations of the affected
individuals and their organizations. Activists spend a lot of time
in courts diverting them from exercising their internationally recognized
right to promote and protect human rights under the UN Declaration
on Human Rights Defenders.
The continuation of human rights violations against critics of President
Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party cast doubt on whether the country
will be able to hold an election free from violence and human rights
abuses similar to the 2008 second round of the presidential election.
calls on President Mugabe to rein in elements in the security forces
who seek to undermine the GNU by ordering arbitrary arrests and
unlawful detention of his perceived opponents. The government should
unconditionally drop all the charges against people arrested solely
for their work as human rights defenders or for their association
with political parties of their choice. The authorities must also
guarantee the right to a fair trial for those facing criminal charges,
including by respecting their right to be bailed.
While the GNU
to an extent facilitated some economic recovery, impunity for violations
of civil and political rights by Zimbabwe's security forces
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