Nabbed US citizen denies plot to topple Mugabe

HARARE - American citizen, Martha O’Donovan, who is currently languishing at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, has denied allegations that she wanted to topple President Robert Mugabe’s government, in a bail appeal filed at the High Court yesterday,

The 25-year-old faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted on the allegations of insulting Mugabe and attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.

The State alleges that O’Donovan systematically sought to incite political unrest through the expansion and use of a sophisticated network on social media platforms as well as running accounts namely Magamba Network Trust and Twitter accounts, @matigari and @openparlyzw.

According to a police charge sheet, she is also accused of posting a Twitter message using username @matigari, which read: “We are being led by a selfish and sick man.”

“The message was accompanied by a photo illustration showing that Mugabe is surviving on a catheter,” the charge sheet read.

In a court application, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) argued that the seriousness of the offence alone is not sufficient reason to induce the applicant to flee, “especially when one has regard to the apparent weaknesses of the State case”.

“The alleged sophisticated network of social media platforms is not specified. The offending content from those social media platforms is not set out. Consequently, the State case is not founded upon any factual basis but a bald allegation.

“It is not immediately clear what account Magamba Network Trust is, applicant is employed by Magamba Network, which is a registered trust, whose date of registration is September 9, 2010 — several years before the commission of the alleged offence. Applicant is neither founder nor a trustee.”

O’Donovan’s lawyer, Obey Shava, refused to give a comment on the issue and referred questions to the United States consulate.

O’Donovan appeared in court for initial hearing on Saturday with her defence counsel led by Shava making a court application challenging the legality of her arrest.

That freedom bid was thrown out by Harare magistrate Nomsa Sabarauta who remanded her in custody to November 15, prompting her lawyers to seek recourse at the High Court.

While challenging the legality of O’Donovan’s arrest, Shava argued that police had arrested her in order to investigate, which is not permissible at law, likening the act to putting the cart before of the horse.

He contended that upon O’Donovan’s arrest at 5am on Friday the police did not advise her of the charge that she was being arrested for.

He argued that the charge of insulting Mugabe was also only brought to her attention at 11:15 am, six hours after being taken into police custody.

On the second charge of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government, Shava argued that a warned and cautioned statement was availed to his client at 1700 hours on Friday evening, 12 hours after her arrest.

However, the State which led evidence from investigation officer Benias Murira and detective assistant inspector Joice Murawa reasoned that O’Donovan was verbally advised of her first charge upon the police’s arrival at her Harare residence.

Murira said the six-hour delay in availing a warned and cautioned statement to O’Donovan for the first charge was due to “administrative” difficulties.

On the second charge, Murira said it came about during investigations as O’Donovan was in police custody.

The State’s star witness said he had been investigating the case for the last two months.

“An investigation is conducted in a progressive manner. At the time of arrest there was suspicion that the accused had undermined the authority of the president and further investigations proved that the accused’s actions were also tantamount to subverting a constitutionally-elected government which made me to prefer that charge,” said Murira.

Sabarauta ruled in favour of the State and dismissed defence counsel’s application assenting that on the first count the 25-year-old was advised of her charge upon arrest.

Sabarauta also contended that the warned and cautioned statement availed to O’Donovan at 1700 hours “does not mean she was not privy to what she was facing and accordingly the application is dismissed.”

Attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government is specified in the Third Schedule which is above the jurisdiction of a magistrate and hence O’Donovan was advised to appeal for bail at the High Court.

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