By Staff Reporter/Mary Taruvinga
US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols has called for the immediate release of seven pro-democracy activists arrested and charged with plotting to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa by force.
Nichols described the recent arrests as a setback on the positive reform agenda Mnangagwa has laid down since taking over from former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
“In terms of policies, I think government of Zimbabwe has a great opportunity to implement the reform agenda it has laid out. It’s a positive agenda that should be implemented, unfortunately the recent arrest of civic society organisation members is a setback in that agenda,” said Nichols.
And then the subtle order to Mnangagwa: “I hope that (arrests) will be reversed quickly.”
Nichols said this while touring Nemaramba Solar Powered Irrigation Scheme in Ward 5, Chimanimani district funded by USAID.
Seven pro-democracy activists are languishing in prison following their arrest on charges of plotting to unseat Mnangagwa.
The State alleges the activists received training in organising mass protests, the use of small arms and counter-intelligence in the Maldives.
Despite Nichols’ pleadings, Harare High Court Judge, Tawanda Chitapi postponed a bail ruling on five of the seven activists, indicating he will only make a determination next Friday.
The five include Centre for Community Development’s George Makoni; Tatenda Mombeyarara, from International Socialist Organisation; Gamuchirai Mukura from Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (Cotrad); Nyasha Mpahlo of Green Governance Zimbabwe and Farirayi Gumbonzvanda of Rosaria Memorial Trust.
Through their lawyer Godfrey Mupanga who is being assisted by top human rights lawyers, Jeremiah Bamu and Jessie Majome, the five activists insisted they were right candidates for bail.
Mupanga told Justice Chitapi that his clients cannot be punished for exercising their rights to education and participation, among other things.
The lawyer also argued that the State has failed to justify allegations against the accused adding several aspects were missing in the charges to support the claim that his clients were flight risks.
While Mnangagwa’s government has blamed sanctions imposed by the US for Zimbabwe’s economic and political problems, Ambassador Nichols argued that the measures under a law enacted in 2001 known as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zdera), have never been used in denying the country access to aid or balance of payment support.
“ZDERA has never been actually implemented because there has not been any vote in any international financial institutions for loans to Zimbabwe because it does not qualify,” said Nichols.
Mnangagwa has argued that Zdera has been used to stop US officials in different international organisations from voting in favour of extending loans to Zimbabwe. Early this year, a local bank was fined millions of dollars for failure to comply with the law.
Critics have also argued that investors remain on the fence because of the negativity that comes with the law while local businesses have indicated offshore loans are expensive because of Zimbabwe’s country risk profile connected to Zdera.
Nichols added that the US is committed to helping Zimbabwe indicating the many projects the American government has funded in the country as a sign that it does not have ill-will for the Southern African nation.