2 journalists and 17 demonstrators arrested in Harare
By Tererai Karimakwenda
Thursday 20 July 2006
A total of 19 people, including 2 journalists, were arrested by armed police Wednesday as they demonstrated for the removal of the illegal commission running Harare and against a recent 1 000 percent increase in water charges imposed by the commission. The 17 protestors are all members of The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA). The 2 journalists are Ndamu Sandu of The Standard private newspaper and freelance journalist Godwin Mangudya. Both were covering the demonstration and it is not clear why they were arrested. Lawyers for the CHRA members were blocked by police from talking to them on Wednesday and they had very little information about the incident.
Sarah Chishiri of The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing all those arrested. She told us Thursday that two of the protestors were released without charge. She said it is believed one of the released had connections in the police force but could not explain why the second one was set free. As for the remaining 17, Chishiri was informed a docket had just been completed and presented to the law and order division of the police. She said it is likely the arrested will be charged under Section 37 of the Criminal Codification Act, which makes it illegal to gather for purposes of a demonstration. Chishiri explained that the police have been using this Criminal Code despite the fact that Zimbabweans have a right to freedom of association and freedom of assembly guaranteed under the constitution.
The police have become notorious for causing delays in order to detain people for long periods. Chishiri said statements have been taken from the arresting officers but the process of taking warned and cautioned statements from the arrested had not yet begun. Information then came in late Thursday from the Media Institute of Southern Africa who reported thatall 19 people had been freed, after payingfines of Z$250,000 each.
CHRA has been lobbying Harare residents not to pay the exorbitant rates, charged by the Makwavarara Commission which was appointed by local government minister Ignatius Chombo after he removed elected Mayor Elias Mudzuri illegally 3 years ago. Under the illegal Makwavarara commission service delivery has seriously deteriorated in the capital. The council is failing to provide basic services like refuse collection and clean running water. There are burst sewer pipes in most suburbs and many roads are in very bad condition. Despite this Makwavarara has raised rates several times with no improvement in service delivery. And minister Chombo has extended the term of the illegal council she heads, twice.