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reprieve from Zim NGOs as magistrate acquits Chikomo
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
November 22, 2013
Elijah Makomo on Friday 22 November 2013 set free Abel Chikomo,
the executive director of the Zimbabwe
Human Rights NGO Forum, who had been on trial for allegedly
running an “unregistered” organisation in contravention
of the Private
Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act (Chapter 17:15).
acquitted after his lawyer, Selby Hwacha, a board member of Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights applied for discharge at the close of the
State case after arguing that State prosecutors had failed to establish
a prima facie case against the human rights campaigner.
The high stakes
court hearing was largely viewed as yet another official harassment
of civic organisations and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.
In his ruling,
Magistrate Makomo castigated State prosecutors for bringing to court
a matter, which ought not to have been before the courts as there
was “absolutely” no case against Chikomo.
case went into a spectacular collapse after Sydney Mhishi,a top
government official,who serves as the Director of Social Services
in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare told
the court that he was not sure whether the Zimbabwe Human Rights
NGO Forum had violated the country’s laws as he could not
ascertain the organisation’s registration status and had not
had sight of its Constitution.
State’s second witness after Constable Chengetai Mugidwa,
and from whom prosecutors led evidence from on Friday after he failed
to pitch up in court on Monday 18 November 2013, told the court
that he had just been asked by the police to prepare affidavits
on the registration status of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum,
even though he had not interacted with Chikomo and had not had sight
of his organisation’s Constitution which confirms that the
non-governmental umbrella organization is exempted from registering
as a private voluntary organisation which requires registration
under the PVO Act.
arrested in 2011 and his case on charges of contravening Section
6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act (Chapter 17:15)
took more than two years to be tried. Prosecutors alleged that his
organisation 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
conducted a survey on transitional justice in Harare’s Highfield
charged that the survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO
Forum was illegal since the organisation is not registered as a
PVO. The State claims that Chikomo 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.
his defence Chikomo, argued that he was wrongly charged and that
the Forum is not a private voluntary organisation which requires
registration under the PVO Act. Through his lawyer, the human rights
defender argued that Section 2 of the PVO Act exempts “anybody
or association of persons, corporate or unincorporated the benefits
from which are exclusively for its own members. He maintained that
the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is a forum, association and
common law universitas of 20 member organisations.
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