THE 35 Elections Resource Centre (ERC) and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) observers arrested on Wednesday have described charges proffered against them by the State as an embarrassment.
They are accused of attempting to announce general elections results in contravention of the Rlectoral Act.
Through their lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, the group demanded that Patrick Chinamasa who actually announced results Thursday night should be arrested. They complained that the law was being applied selectively adding that they did not commit any offence.
They however secured US$200 bail each with state’s consent before they were remanded to September 28 for their routine court appearance.
The 35 appeared before Harare magistrate Ngoni Nduna raising a slew of complaints against police officers who arrested them. “The accused have a number of complains they want placed on record against the police.
“The first complain relates to the delay in advising the accused of the reasons why they are before the court.
“We demanded a synopsis of the facts upon which these charges are based yesterday. None were given. We were only given the request for remand form today at 12:50 today and we were not even able to explain those charges to the accused persons.
“That incapacitated us from adequately preparing for these proceedings,” said Muchadehama. He said the officers intimidated his clients and scared them.
“The police were heavily armed with Ak47 rifles, truncheons and other assortment of weapons swooped on the accused and arrested then in a dragnet style. “That was around 8pm on the 23rd of August 2023. They were made to lie on their stomach’s.
“Their cellphones and laptops as well as other gadgets they were using were taken away. “At the point of taking, none of the accused were advised of the reasons why they were taking them. This is in violation of subsection 60 (i) (a) which requires that an accused must be advised of the reason why they are being arrested at the time of the arrest. “The accused only came to know of these charges around 15:30 on 24 August when warned and cautioned statements were being recorded from them.
“The third complaint is that the accused were held incommunicado. Upon being taken illegally, the police seized each of the accused persons personal cellphones, Asked for the passwords, switched them off and put them on flight mode before they took them away.
“The accused persons were not able to communicate with their spouses, relatives, legal practitioners, doctors or anyone else. This is a clear violation of the Constitution which prescribes that an accuse person must be able to communicate with the outside world upon arrest. Where they are unable to do so the state must facilitate communication.
“Fourth complaint relates to denial of legal representation. Upon their arrest, the accused specifically requested to call their legal practitioners. The police denied the accused to call their legal practitioners. The police went on to interview the accused in some instances taking videos of the accused persons.
“We visited Harare Central Police station on the 24th of August 2023 and police feigned ignorance regarding the whereabouts of the accused persons. “We only managed to see the accused around 3 pm yesterday (Thursday).” Muchadehama said his clients were starved, and when they were allowed to eat they were made to buy their own food.
“The fifth complaint relates to the denial of food by the police. Since their arrest on 23 August upto now, the police have not provided the accused persons food yet it is their duty to do so. “The police suggested that the accused should make contributions and buy their own food which they did when it was not their duty to do so.
“The sixth complaint is that upon their arrest, whilst the police were searching the place, the accused were made to lie on their stomachs for over three hours. When they were taken to CID Headquarters and CID Law and Order, they were not detained in cells. “They were made to sleep on the floor without blankets, water, proper ablution facilities.
“That kind of treatment is violation of section 53 of the Constitution which prescribes that no one should be treated in a cruel manner or punishment. He said the following day they were transferred to condemned cells .
“The cells were condemned by the Supreme Court. They are still in the state they were in when they condemned . . . stinky, no water, full of bed bugs.
“The accused reserve their right to challenge their placement on remand but my submission is that the arrest was unlawful because there are no proper charges before the court. “I can submit that the charges as currently framed are really grotesque and scandalous.
“They are not based on any reasonable suspicion that the accused committed any offence. This was a dragnet arrest. “As you can see your worship from the charges, there is no complainant. ZEC has not complained. There is no government because it was devolved. There is no complainant. Zanu PF has not complained. No any other political party has complained so the police has outdone everyone . . . What the state is doing prophesising.
“There is no just cause why the accused were engaged detained and why they are even before the court. “The 9th complaint is that the accused are being tried in the media. They ask that their matter be dealt with by the court. To demonstrate my point the police issued out a press statement on 23rd of August 2023.”
Muchadehama tendered a ZRP stayement confirming the arrest of the 35. Lancelot Mutsokoti appearing for the State objected saying what the defence produced was a screenshot not showing that the statement was boriginated by the police. Muchadehama hit back saying this should part of State’s investigations.
The lawyer said raising an objection was too early considering that the trial has not started. He complained that his clients were being tried in the media.
Muchadehama said someone has been commenting writing suggestive statements and singled out Tinoedza Zvimwe 1 who he said is implying that accused persons are committing acts of subversion. Mutsokoti objected again saying Muchadehama should explain how his clients are being tried in the media and how Tinoedza Zvimwe utterances are related to the ZRP statement.
“Ghost accounts are not relevant especially when we don’t not have evidence who they belong to,”said the prosecutor.
Muchadehama said, “What the police said is what Home Affairs said. They are acting in cahoots. My simple submission is that the police are behind this.
“In a publication by the Herald today (25 August) page 2 you find a story attributed t the police. This is prejudicial . . . commenting on the issue before it even comes to court. “The police are making inflamatory statements about this case which is worrying.
“When there is too much publicity about a case, that can be ruled as prejudicial. A person can actually be acquitted on that basis. The accused are entitled to equal protection of the law and a fair trial not to be tried by a person in the media.
“The 10th complaint is that the accused are being discriminated against. It is alleged they attempted to announce the results.
“The accused did nothing to be arrested…especially considering that its just an attempt…Patrick Chinamasa announced the results and nothing happened to him. “He was not arrested so the police must not apply the law selectively. If other people are allowed to go free the same should be done to the accused.
“The state must investigate with the same overzealousness they had when they arrested the accused. Even during midnight….the witching hours. ” said Muchadehama. The magistrate ordered the state to investigate the complaints by September 28. He said the State must bring him a detailed report of their investigations. — STAFF WRITER.