Judge chides police for rights violations in activist arrests

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By Leopold Munhende

HIGH Court Judge Tawanda Chitapi Friday chided police for alleged rights violation on seven civil society activists accused of plotting against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chitapi granted five members of the group RTGS$1 000 bail each and further ordered them to surrender their passports and to continue residing at their addresses as initially supplied to the police.

The other two will have their bail hearing on Monday.

“The circumstances around the arrest were as detailed by them (activists),” said the judge.

“I would in this regard remind the police of Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, in particular Section 44.

“They have a duty to respect fundamental rights to freedom, protect and promote basic freedoms.”

Chitapi also blasted the law enforcement agents for arresting in order to investigate when it should be the opposite.

The rights activists were seized by police recently at the Robert Mugabe International Airport on arrival from Maldives where they allegedly undertook training on how to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

According to court papers, they were not properly informed about their rights at the point of arrest and were also denied access to their lawyers or permission to make phone calls.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) executive director Roselyn Hanzi praised the judge for calling the police to order.

“It was very clear in the manner in which they were arrested that the state officials that were involved were acting outside the constitution.

“We are so excited that the issue of arresting to investigate that we have always spoken about was noted by the judge, that it is a wrong practice and we hope that going ahead, the police are going to institute sweeping reforms to ensure that police officers and any other officials involved in the arrests follow the dictates of the constitution,” said Hanzi.

The United States Embassy and European Union have both castigated the state’s arrest of the activists, arguing it was a direct attack on activities by civic society within the country.