By Mary Taruvinga
GEORGE Makoni and six fellow civil activists have been freed by the courts following over a year’s accusations of plotting to remove President Emmerson Mnangagwa from office after allegedly receiving training in Maldives.
A Harare magistrate Barbara Mateko freed the activists who became to be known as the Zimbabwe 7.
Their acquittal follows the state’s failure to bring them to trial while keeping them on remand for the prolonged period.
They were being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
ZLHR posted on Twitter that, “In Harare, what a spectacular end to the persecution of 7 pro-democracy campaigners who have been removed from remand today after they were arrested charged with subverting constitutional government for plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s govt.
“Represented by ZLHR the seven pro-democracy activists who came to be known as #Zimbabwe7 had endured attending court for 15 months without being put on trial. If convicted, they could have been imprisoned for up to 20 years in jail.”
The seven were arrested between May 20 and 27, 2019, at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare, the capital, on their return from a workshop in the Maldives.
The workshop, hosted by the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, focused on peaceful resistance.
The charge sheets against the activists specified the meeting and its training in civil disobedience.
Those arrested on May 20 were Makoni of the Centre for Community Development Trust; Nyasha Frank Mpahlo of Transparency International Zimbabwe; Tatenda Mombeyarara of the Citizens Manifesto and Gamuchirai Mukura of Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development Trust.
The following day the authorities arrested Farirai Gumbonzvanda, a girls’ rights activist and community volunteer with the Rozaria Memorial Trust.
On May 27, they arrested Sithabile Dewa of Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence and Rita Nyampinga of the Female Prisoners Support Trust.
Lancelot Mutsokoti prosecuted.
Commenting on the group’s acquittal, Makoni said it was a great feeling to be free once again.
“It is a great relief because it is not a joke to be on remand for almost one and a half years,” he said.
“When you are on remand, it is more like you are in jail because most of your freedoms are curtailed. You have to be constantly reporting to police every given time. For us it was twice a month.
“Secondly, our gadgets such as phones and laptops were confiscated and kept in state custody under the guise of exhibits.
“When you are being tried especially for a crime such as attempts to remove a government, you are also on the radar of state apparatus and your family does not feel secure also.”