State harassment of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe continued this week when police attempted to serve summons to 14 activists arrested in May 2008. Only one member, Clara Manjengwa, received the summons to appear in Harare Magistrate’s Court today at 8.30am. When she presented herself at court, there was no docket, witnesses or any record of the matter being due to be heard. The police themselves were not even present. In fact the only evidence that a summons had been served was the copy that Clara herself had. Clara is still recovering from her most recent detention in Harare Central Police Station a few weeks ago and had to leave her sick bed to attend court.
Instead of dismissing the matter out of hand, Prosecutor Chigota insisted on calling out the names of the 14 from Clara’s copy of the summons three times, despite it having been communicated that Clara was the only member to receive the summons. The matter was postponed to 11.30am to give time for the docket to be found. When at 11.30 the docket still had not been found and neither the Investigating Officer nor witnesses were present, Magistrate Munhamato Mutevedzi dismissed the matter. The state will have to proceed by way of summons when they have their case in order.
The 14 members had been arrested on 28th May 2008 near the Zambian Embassy in Harare, where they were to hand over a petition to the SADC chair calling for an end to post-election violence. 12 of the group spent 17 days in Chikurubi and Harare Remand Prisons after the state contested the Magistrate’s granting of bail. Two members, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, spent 37 days in Chikurubi Prison before being granted bail. The group were charged under Section 37 (1) (c) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – ‘participating in a gathering with the intent to promote public violence, a breach of the peace or bigotry’. After appearing in court on remand several times, the group was finally removed off remand on 15th October 2008.
WOZA condemns this attempt by the state to resurrect this case over two years later without any additional evidence as pure harassment of human rights defenders. It raises concerns of renewed violence and persecution of pro-democracy activists ahead of a possible election next year.
To read the request for remand, click here: Request for Remand – J. Williams and 13 others