By Alex Bell
23 August 2011
The trial of six Zimbabwean activists, arrested in February while attending a video screening about the people’s uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, has been postponed for a second time and is now set to get underway on Wednesday.
The activists' trial was scheduled to begin on Monday at the Harare Regional Court, after it was postponed last month. But it was postponed again to Wednesday because no Magistrate had been assigned to preside over the trial. Regional Magistrate Morgan Nemadire had to recuse himself from presiding over the trial because of his connections to one of the activists.
The six, including former MDC-T MP Munyaradzi Gwisai, were among more than 40 people arrested after watching the video at an academic meeting, which was raided by police. After their initial arrest some in the group, including Gwisai, were tortured in police cells and kept in solitary confinement at Chikurubi maximum security prison in Harare for weeks.
The whole group was charged with treason and originally held for more than two weeks. Eventually 39 of the activists were released without charge after an international campaign calling for their freedom.
However Gwisai, Hopewell Gumbo, Antonater Choto, Welcome Zimuto, Eddson Chakuma and Tatenda Mombeyarara were still facing treason charges until mid March, with the state insisting they were either directly linked to the ‘illegal’ gathering or were speakers at the meeting. The treason charges were then altered in May to a charge of ‘subverting a constitutional government’.
Last month the state dropped the ‘subverting a constitutional government’ charge, but brought another charge and four alternative charges instead. They group is now being charged with ‘conspiracy to commit public violence’, with alternative charges including ‘inciting public violence’, ‘participating in a meeting with a view to inciting public violence’, and ‘breach of peace’.
Meanwhile, a group of about 20 protesters from the pressure group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were all released without charge after they were arrested during a demonstration on Monday. At the same time Costa Machingauta, the MDC-T National vice Chairperson, who was summoned to a police post in Glen View on allegations of assault, was also released on Monday evening without any charges being laid against him.