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Human right forum appeals to judiciary as Job Sikhala, others clock 35 days in pre-trial detention

HARARE – The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) has appealled to the judiciary to make urgent enquiry into the trend of denial of bail for political detainees.

This follows the arrest of 15 opposition political party members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in Nyatsime who are languishing at Chikuribi Maximum Prison for over a month.

CCC members Precious Jeche, Misheck Guzha and Odius Makoma were arrested on 20 June 2022 after they were turned into accused persons by Police who had summoned them to Marondera Central Police Station.

They were charged with public violence.

The Forum accused government of politicising the granting or denial of bail and targeting opposition political party figures, activists and human rights defenders.

“The three had gone to file police reports on the unlawful destruction of their personal property at Beatrice Police Station on 16 June 2022 with the assistance of Forum lawyers,” the Forum said in a statement.

“They appeared at the Harare Magistrates Court to answer charges of committing public violence on 22 June 2022. They were denied bail. Although Forum lawyers argued that no evidence had been advanced to the effect that the accused persons would interfere with investigations or commit similar offences if released, their defense was still labelled as not plausible enough by the presiding officer.”

On 22 June, the Zimbabwe Republic Police arrested CCC members Zephaniah Chinembiri, Zecks Makoni and Roan Tsoka who are truck drivers who ferried people to Moreblessing Ali’s funeral. They were charged with public violence.

Also arrested on the same day was Chauya Shopa whose Mazda Familia vehicle was positively identified in Nyatsime when violence erupted in the area on 14 June and was thus implicated as having also participated in the violence.

They appeared in court on 23 June and were denied bail on the grounds that public violence is a serious offence that warranted their continued detention.

On 23 June, the ZRP proceeded to arrest CCC members Enock Tsoka, Emmanuel Maradzikwa, Tatenda Pindahama and Shepherd Bulakasi.

The four are owners of lorries allegedly used to ferry mourners to Moreblessing Ali’s funeral. They were also charged with public violence.

Their bail application in the Harare Magistrates Court on 25 June was postponed to 27 June 2022 on the basis that the court was too overwhelmed to hear their application.

Bail was denied in a bail ruling delivered on 28 June on the ground that public violence is serious offence which is likely to attract a heavy sentence therefore there is risk that they will abscond.

On 13 July 2022, Robert Madzokere was arrested at his home in Nyatsime after being implicated by neighbors and charged with public violence. After being detained for two nights, the accused appeared before Magistrate Yeukai Dzuda on 15 July for initial remand.

Bail was denied in a ruling delivered on 18 July on the basis that he is facing a serious offence and was remanded in custody to 2 August.

On 19 July, CCC youth member, Clever Sibanda was also arrested at his home in Nyatsime and taken to Harare Central Police Station.

He too was charged with public violence. He appeared for initial remand before Magistrate Mushavakure on 20 July who then stood down the matter to 21 July for ruling.

Bail was denied on the basis that the offence is serious and the accused may abscond; further that the accused is a danger to society as he resides where the witnesses stay and that his defense was not plausible.

The arrests of Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala and Chitungwiza North legislator Godfrey Sithole on 14 June bring the total number of CCC members arrested by the police for the violence that erupted in Nyatsime to 15.

The two CCC legislators were initially denied bail by Harare magistrate Gibson Mandaza. Mandaza denied the two bail in a bail ruling delivered on 22 June declaring that they were a “threat to public security and likely to re-offend if released on bail.

The pair were remanded in custody to 6 July and advised to lodge an appeal in the High Court.

A subsequent bail appeal filed by their lawyers Alec Muchadehama and Jeremiah Bamu was turned down by the High Court on 7 July.

The presiding officer, in citing grounds for denial of bail in the circumstances asserted that there was no misdirection on the lower court’s findings; further that the two had a heightened propensity to re-offend. The two remain incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Prison where they have, to date, spent a total of 34 days in pretrial incarceration since their arrest on 14 June.

The Forum urged the courts to protect and enforce equal treatment before the law without discrimination based on political affiliation or social status.

“The Forum notes as a fact that no ZANU-PF supporter, including Nyatsime ward Councillor, Masimbi Masimbi, who publicly incited the violence, has been arrested in connection with the Nyatsime skirmishes. Job Sikhala in particular has however been arrested over 60 times over a 21-year period without a single conviction,” the Forum further said.

“Ironically, in denying him bail for the charges relating to the Nyatsime violence, the presiding officer alleged Job Sikhala has a propensity to re-offend when it is in fact the State that has shown a propensity to arrest him.”

“The Forum reiterates that bail is a constitutional right that every accused person should have access to regardless of their political affiliation. Section 50 (1)(d) of the 2013 Constitution asserts that any arrested person “must be released unconditionally or on reasonable conditions, pending charge or trial, unless compelling reasons are justifying their continued detention.”

“The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the justifiability of continued detention. This is in line with section 70(1) (a) of the Constitution which provides that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“In all these instances, no concrete evidence was adduced by the state to this effect. The Forum is thus of the view that the continued pretrial incarceration of the #Nyatsime15 constitutes a violation of basic fair trial rights and the fair administration of justice in general as well of the accused’s rights under section 49(1) of the Constitution to not be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or without just cause in particular.”