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Court sets date for ruling on ERC’s application as Chikomo’s trial suffers yet another false start
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
October 28
, 2013

Harare Magistrate Tendai Mahwe will on Friday 1 November 2013 deliver his ruling on an application in which the Election Resource Centre (ERC) wants its matter to be referred to the Constitutional Court to test the constitutionality of some provisions of the Electoral Act which criminalises freedom of expression and breaches the organisation and its employees’ fundamental rights.

Magistrate Mahwe made the determination after ERC lawyer, Trust Maanda, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights filed an application seeking to declare as unconstitutional Section 40 of the Electoral Act for being in breach of Section 61, 62, 64 and 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The ERC represented by the organisation’s director Tawanda Chimhini also wants the Constitutional Court to declare Section 40 of the Electoral Act as void for being overbroad, vague and imprecise.

The ERC wants proceedings to be stayed pending the determination by the Constitutional Court of the above mentioned questions.

Chimhini was arrested together with Farai Saungweme, Wadzanai Previous Nyakudya and Moses Chikora and charged with contravening Section 40 (c) (1) (g) of the Electoral Act ahead of the July 31 harmonised elections for allegedly conducting voter education without the approval of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Civil society organisations in Zimbabwe have argued that ZEC has no capacity to conduct voter education alone and other players must be allowed to assist.

Meanwhile, the trial of Abel Chikomo, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation suffered yet another false start on Monday 28 October 2013 after Magistrate Mahwe postponed the case to Wednesday 13 November 2013.

Chikomo, whose trial had been rescheduled to commence on Monday 28 October 2013 could not start as Magistrate Mahwe indicated that he wanted to dispense with several cases lined up in his court before presiding over the human rights campaigner’s case. This if the fifth time that Chikomo’s trial has had to be postponed.

Prosecutors charge that Chikomo contravened Section 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act Chapter 17:15 after he allegedly conducted some activities without being registered with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act. The charge, which Chikomo denies, came after the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a non-governmental umbrella organisation conducted a survey on transitional justice in Harare’s Highfield suburb.

The State says this was illegal since the organisation is not registered as a PVO. The State claims that he unlawfully instructed two of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s employees to commence or carry out a survey in Harare’s Highfield suburb with the intention to obtain people's recommendations on the preferred transitional justice mechanism for Zimbabwe, without his organization registering with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.

Last year, Chikomo’s trial on the same charges, which first arose in February 2011, was shelved after State prosecutor Innocent Chingarande withdrew summons issued against him as the State was not ready to proceed with the matter.

The judicial persecution of Chikomo, who is represented by Selby Hwacha of Dube Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners, who is also a board member for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is viewed as yet another official harassment of civic organisations and human rights defenders operating in Zimbabwe.

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