Shoddy police work blamed for acquittals

HARARE - Human rights lawyers have squarely blamed investigators for their faulty police work, accusing them of investigative amnesia and guilty omissions, which led to the absence of solid cases in the courts against pro-democracy campaigners.

More than 100 Zimbabweans will in January stand trial on various charges related to staging protests against President Robert Mugabe’s administration over the deteriorating political and economic conditions in the country.

Courts have so far thrown out several cases against pro-democracy activists in their entirety because of the shoddy investigations and the procedural mistakes in the many trials that magistrates said were so unsound they could not be considered just.

Legal experts believe that the acquittals pointed to bungled work by police investigators.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba could not immediately comment on the accusations yesterday, saying she was tied up at a function.

Opposition legislators, pro-democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens are among those who have been hauled to stand trial in January and acquitted in a month in which Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (Zlhr) lawyers among them Jeremiah Bamu, Tonderai Bhatasara, Trust Maanda, Kudzayi Kadzere, Obey Shava, Dorcas Chitiyo, Sharon Hofisi, and Gift Mtisi had a busy schedule in the country’s courts.

Some of the activists that have been acquitted include National Vendors Union leader Sten Zvorwadza, #Tajamuka leader Promise Mkwananzi, advocate Fadzai Mahere and Patson Dzamara.

Human rights lawyer Bamu said police were fuelling erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe owing to their shoddy probes.

“The State continues to embarrass itself by bringing half-baked cases to courts. The prosecution has unashamedly become a conduit through which the police persecute citizens who are deemed not to be in line with the wishes of a Police State that they seek to transform Zimbabwe into,” Bamu said.

Most cases have been thrown out for either lacking evidence, being malicious, with some found to breach the liberties guaranteed by the new Constitution.

“The approach adopted by our police shows they are not adhering to the Constitution.

“They rush to arrest before investigating and in the end embarrass themselves by putting the justice system into ridicule,” Mtisi, a human rights lawyer, said.

“They overload the courts, denying deserving cases an opportunity for them to be dealt with within a reasonable time.”

Shava, a Zlhr award winner, said police have diverted from their mandate of protecting the public to torturing them.

“...their activities undermine gains from the 2013 Constitution such as the right to demonstrate, petition and political rights.

“That conduct also contradicts their constitutional mandate to protect and serve the very people they are currently persecuting and intimidating through malicious prosecution.

“To a greater extent, indeed conduct of the police leaves much to be desired and instead of promoting rule of law, they are focused on rule by law which entails a lot of subjugation of the masses, violating their freedom of expression, association, and conscience.”

Liberty Gono, a legal practitioner at Machaya and Associates, said the police must investigate before arrest and seek opinion from superiors if the investigation officer is not sure whether the matter is criminal or not.

“If there is reasonable suspicion that a crime might have been committed, only then can an arrest be made if the matter is not trivial and sent to court, full docket compiled and the matter is prosecuted.

“There is no need to arrest a suspect on trivial matters....the law is not concerned with trivial matters or de minimis non curat lex,  meaning police should advise as such....(and then the courts will) fine, caution or counsel.”

Gono said there should be no distinction between matters involving anti-government activists and other matters police handle, saying law enforcement agents should be impartial in execution of their duties.

“Matters involving anti-government activists are only problematic in that they come with certain instructions attached, leaving the junior investigation officer with no room to form his opinion as whether a crime has been committed or not and whether to arrest or not.

“In cases of activists, when a docket is compiled and brought to prosecution, prosecutors should decline half-baked cases which clog our courts,” Gono said.

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