By Kumbirai Mafunda
High Court Judge Justice Tawanda Chitapi on Friday 7 June 2019 set free four human rights campaigners, who had spent more than two weeks in prison after they were arrested last month and charged with subverting a constitutional government.
The four human rights defenders namely George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura and Frank Nyasha Mpahlo had been detained at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison after they were arrested on Monday 20 May 2019 and charged with subverting constitutional government as defined in section 22(2)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Prosecutors accused the quartet of travelling to Maldives on 13 May 2019, where they allegedly attended a training workshop organised by Centre for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a Serbian non-governmental organisation, with the intention of subverting a constitutionally elected government.
The State claimed that during the training workshop, the four human rights campaigners, who are represented by Jeremiah Bamu and Godfrey Mupanga of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, were trained on how to mobilise citizens to turn against the government and to engage in acts of civil disobedience and or resistance to any law during some anticipated national protests organised by some anti-government movements.
The law enforcements agents charged that Makoni, Mombeyarara, Mukura and Mpahlo were also trained on how to operate small arms and to evade arrest during civil unrest and on counter-intelligence and acts of terrorism.
But Justice Chitapi on Friday 7 June 2019 ordered that Makoni, Mombeyarara, Mukura and Mpahlo be released from prison upon payment of $1 000 RTGS as bail money after ruling that it is in the interest of justice that the quartet be set free.
The High Court Judge also imposed some stringent bail conditions for the four human rights campaigners after ordering them to report everyday at various Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) stations including continuing to reside at their given residential addresses until the case is finalised and not to interfere with witnesses and police investigations.
Justice Chitapi advised Makoni, Mombeyarara, Mukura and Mpahlo that they could petition the High Court seeking a variation of their stringent reporting conditions.
The Judge castigated the practice and conduct of some members of ZRP, who apprehended the human rights defenders saying it was clear that the law enforcement agents had arrested Makoni, Mombeyarara, Mukura and Mpahlo in order to investigate and did not conduct investigations first as should be the case.
Justice Chitapi implored Zimbabwean authorities to uphold the provisions of the Bill of Rights outlined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution, which provides for respect of citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Judge stated that during the bail hearing, the State did not show that Makoni, Mombeyarara, Mpahlo and Mukura were involved in organising or participating in any violent anti-government protests in the past so as to warrant curtailment of their freedoms and that the programme of activity for the workshop which they allegedly attended does not show elements of subversion.