By Lance Guma
28 February 2011
Munyaradzi Gwisai and the 44 activists arrested on the 19th February for watching video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia, will spend a 10th night in custody after the trial magistrate failed to turn up for a scheduled hearing on Monday.
Defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama told SW Radio Africa that his clients went to the Harare Magistrates Court as scheduled, only to be told by the Public Prosecutor that Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi had failed to turn up, claiming he was attending a meeting somewhere else. It was left to a stand-in magistrate to postpone the matter to Tuesday 11:15am.
Gwisai, a former MP in Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s MDC party, was arrested alongside 45 other student and trade union activists for holding a meeting at which footage of protests in the Middle East and North Africa was shown and later discussed. Last week Wednesday they were charged with treason or alternatively plotting to ‘overthrow a constitutionally elected government.’
One of the activists arrested was released on Thursday after apparently ‘defecting’ and deciding to write an affidavit as a state witness. This meant the number of those charged went down from 46 to 45.
Muchadehama struggled to contain his frustration, telling us; ‘The matter has been characterized by delays right from the start. Today the matter has not been heard adding to the delays by the police and the prosecutors.” He said his clients had been severely tortured, but the longer the matter took to be heard, the more time for the medical evidence of torture to disappear as the wounds healed.
Last week Thursday Gwisai testified in court about how he and 5 other detainees were subjected to torture by 9 state security agents at Harare Central Police Station. He said they were tortured in an effort to secure confessions implicating them in treason, a charge they are facing in court. During torture sessions, recorded on video, the detainees were asked to recount what happened in their meeting.
Gwisai said each of the 6 detainees received a series of lashes administered while they lay down on their stomachs. He added that he received between 15 and 20 lashes as the police and his tormentors sought to obtain confessions from him and the other detainees. Gwisai said the pain which he endured and suffered as a result of the torture sessions was “indescribable, sadistic and a tragedy for Zimbabwe”.
Muchadehama said they are trying to get the court to order that his clients see a doctor but the magistrate has so far said they should only see a prison doctor, but even this has not happened. Some of the activists detained are also on anti-retroviral medication and while being denied medication their health is said to be deteriorating.