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Harare WOZA members acquitted
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
October 24, 2006

One hundred and one Women Of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members walked away free yesterday after facing trial at Rotten Row Magistrates Court. The women were charged under Chapter 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act - 'participating in a public gathering with the intent to cause public disorder, breach of peace or bigotry'. The State, represented by Prosecutor, Mr Mutangadura, withdrew the charges after state witnesses had failed to support the charges against the women in their evidence. Magistrate Bhila presided over the case.

The leadership of WOZA, in a celebratory mood after their seventh court victory, said, "this is further proof that the freedoms of assembly and expression cannot be successfully criminalized by any unjust laws, including the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act. We would like to thank Magistrate Bhila for upholding the independence of the judiciary and send him our love. We have also been vindicated about our right to speak out about the poor service delivery, sewage flowing in the streets and high costs of water in Harare. We will be visiting Town House again in the near future."

The women were arrested on 11th September at Town House in Harare whilst protesting against poor service delivery in the capital. Police at Town House tortured many of the women before taking them to Harare Central Police Station.

Defence witnesses, Sergeant Hwara (Harare Central Bike Unit) and Constables Mudita and Mudzambara (Harare Central Operations), testified that the accused were arrested after being caught demonstrating against the Harare City Council.

They also claimed that the accused were displaying placards written, "Too much raw sewage flowing in our roads", "Water charges have become too high they should be lowered" and "Rentals have become too high" and other WOZA banners. Although under cross-examination, it was exposed that the women were bodily searched and the placards recovered.

Advocate Beatrice Mtetwa, a member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, defended the women. In the defence outline, the accused denied the charges, including participating in any activity that carried the risk of causing public disorder. They accused further indicated that even if they had demonstrated, the content on the placards could hardly be classified as inflammatory as it was factual that raw sewerage flowed in some streets of Harare.

Making his submission to the court, the prosecutor, Mr Mutangadura, was at pains to buy time as he desperately tried to piece together a case after it emerged that the charges were not going to be substantiated by the evidence of the state witnesses.

Mr Mutangadura asked for permission to adjourn after an hour during the first morning session, citing the need for the police to present exhibits, which he claimed, had been left at the Harare Central Police Station and needed to be collected. Said evidence still did not appear after the break.

After three of his four witnesses had testified, he sought to close the state case but had not as yet presented evidence and pleaded with the court to adjourn the trial until the following day to enable him time to sort out certain logistics.

Dismissing further dilly dallying and handing down the judgement, Mr Bhila found that said the State had failed to prove that the accused had participated in a violent demonstration or to show that the demonstration could have potentially turned violent and disrupted public order. He went on to be blunt and said that prolonging the trial would only be a waste of resources and an embarrassment.

This is the third victory for WOZA members who have been on trial this month. It is also their seventh victory in court. Meanwhile in Bulawayo, 154 members are facing the same charges for their participation in a demonstration against Operation Sunrise (the slashing of zeroes) in August and will face trial earlier on 7 November 2006.

Visit the WOZA fact sheet

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