The Zimbabwean government has indicated that it intends to alter charges against 59 National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) activists from public violence to insurgency, banditry or terrorism.
A protester holds a placard as Zimbabwe opposition supporters under the National Electoral Reform (NERA) coalition march through the streets of Bulawayo, on September 17, 2016
The activists were arrested following a demonstration to demand electoral reforms.
Jeremiah Bhamu, the lawyer representing the activists, announced the latest development at the High Court in Harare on Thursday soon after 55 of the activists had been granted $30 bail each by High Court judge, Happious Zhou.
“The State made an indication that at the trial they wish to prefer the charge of insurgency, banditry and terrorism against the accused persons, instead of public violence,” he said.
Bhamu noted that the 55 appellants, who were arrested on August 26, had been granted bail after the judge heard all arguments from both the State and the defence.
“Bail was granted as prayed for with an additional condition that the appellants should not interfere with state witnesses. They will also expected to report once a week to CID Law and order section at Harare Central Police,” he said. He said the bail was granted in absentia as they had not been requested to appear in court.
“But what we noticed is that one of the accused Daniel Makumbe could not be brought to court because of some logistical reasons, we don’t know what the reasons are but equally in Mbare yesterday (Wednesday) several more accused persons could not be brought to court. It appears the prisons is facing some challenges in bringing prisoners to court,” he said.
Bhamu said they had not yet been furnished with a trial date as the police had requested at least two months to carry out further investigations.
Douglas Mwonzora, secretary-geneal of opposition party MDC-T, dismissed the State’s intention to alter charges against the activists saying it was unconstitutional.
“The tragedy of Zimbabwe is such that the public service are extremely poor and we have had funny behaviour over the past few weeks. The argument involving statutory instrument 106 is very clear about the incompetence we are dealing with.
“Once you charge a person, in terms of the Constitution, you cannot change that charge because these people were warned of the charges of public violence,” he said.
He said by altering the charges, the State was trying to attract a stiffer sentence. “It is sadistic and it is illegal and unconstitutional.It is the height of incompetence. These are the last kicks of a dying regime,” he said.
Source ; Nehanda