The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) expresses concern at the delays in the finalisation of the case against 7 human rights defenders (HRDs) facing charges of subverting a constitutional government in Zimbabwe. The SAHRDN calls on the authorities in Zimbabwe to withdraw charges as it is clear that the state does not have adequate evidence to proceed to trial. Serial postponements of the case have become so disruptive to the lives of the HRDs.
The case against Stabile Dewa, George Makoni, Rita Nyampinga, Gamuchirai Mukura, Nyasha Frank Mpahlo, Tatenda Mombeyarara and Farirai Gumbonzvanda now commonly known as that of the Zimbabwe7 has been postponed to 30 April 2020. When the Zimbawe7 appeared in court on 31 January, the prosecutor argued that the Prosecutor General of Zimbabwe Mr Kumbirai Hodzi was still reviewing the docket with charges against the HRDs. This is not the first time that the prosecutor in charge of the case on the day has blamed the request for postponement on the Prosecutor General. The SAHRDN which has been following this case also noticed that the same argument was used as the reason for the postponement on 7 January 2020 when the case came up at court for trial.
“We remain concerned at the delays in the finalisation of this case,” said Roselyn Hanzi the Executive Director of ZLLHR and board member at the SAHRDN. “Delays in finalisation of the matter results in serious potentially irreparable prejudice being suffered by the HRDs. Given the seriousness of the charges and the disruption of their lives as their freedom is still curtailed. They still have bail reporting requirements and are required to frequently report at police stations” she added.
Faced with these frequent unnecessary delays in the finalisation of the case, Jeremiah Bhamu of ZLHR acting for the HRDs imposed a condition that if the matter was to be postponed again then the passports for HRDS which the state was withholding had to be released.
“We urge Zimbabwean authorities to drop the charges forthwith or to proceed to trial immediately if they feel there is a basis to do so. Delayed justice is denied justice” said Timothy Mtambo the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi and Vice President of the SAHRDN.
The Zimbabwe7 were arrested and initially detained for participating at a civil society workshop in the Maldives and charged with the offence of subverting a constitutional government, a very serious offence that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has previously said is akin to treason in respect of which if convicted can lead to a prolonged period of imprisonment. The frequency of the use of the charges of subversion against HRDs and legitimate political opponents has reached alarming proportions in Zimbabwe.
The SAHRDN notes that Zimbabwe is a party to a number of international and regional human rights standards such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) that guarantee and protect fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of movement, association, assembly and expression. These instruments also guarantee the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal. The SAHRDN, therefore, urges the authorities in Zimbabwe to give appropriate attention to this matter and finalise the case of the Zimbabwe7.