Detained Zvishavane MDC activists freed

HARARE - A Zvishavane magistrate has freed seven opposition MDC supporters after conceding that they were wrongly arrested.

The seven — Lameck Sateko, Tobias Moyo, Clifford Mudzingwa, Trynos Shava, Tendai Tswana, Patrick Museva and Tapiwa Shava — were released from police custody on Monday after their arrest the previous day.

They had been rounded up at Mike Auto’s grounds in the mining town and charged with contravening Section 36 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

The group was caught up when police tried to block an anti-government MDC rally and subsequent protests across Zvishavane — about 300km south of Harare — as they detained dozens of protesters and cordoned off the main squares in the small town.

The seven unemployed residents were set free after their lawyer, Herbert Tafa, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, filed an application for refusal of remand.

Tafa argued that the seven activists had not committed any offence for them to be apprehended by police officers in the first place.

The Zvishavane magistrate concurred with the argument.

The opposition MDC has called for rallies in all major cities, extending a series of engagements that started at the 17th MDC anniversary held in Bulawayo in September in response to a deepening political and economic crisis.

The demos, which have become an outlet for expressing general discontent with the government, are some of the southern African nations’ biggest for more than a decade and continued on Sunday despite pre-emptive detentions of many activists and warnings from the authorities.

The High Court had okayed the Zvishavane rally, after attempts by police to outlaw the assembly.

MDC supporters gathered at one police checkpoint that blocked access to the main venue where the rally was held. Similar-sized groups tried to enter the square at other points, some sang the national anthem.

Witnesses saw police, some in full riot gear, chase protesters down the street, detaining them one-by-one and bundling them into trucks.

Prosecutors claimed in court that the seven Zvishavane residents were all in attendance at the venue of the MDC rally and that Sateko, Moyo, Mudzingwa, Trynos Shava and Tswana were arrested during the commission of the crime.

They further claimed there were some witnesses who directly saw Museva and Tapiwa Shava burning tyres and blocking roads in the Midlands town.

The prosecutors intended to use the “debris” of a burnt down flea market as exhibit during their trial of some

property valued at $200, which was allegedly destroyed by the Zvishavane residents.

Although relatively small so far, with the biggest no more than a few thousand strong, the recent opposition rallies have become the most visible and a geographically broad display of discontent against President Robert Mugabe’s failed 36-year rule.

The unrest follows a sharp economic decline and a biting liquidity crisis.

Authorities had warned that the planned rallies were “illegal” and that police would react.

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