'Chigumba tweet' saga: Court okays Shadaya retrial

HARARE - A Harare magistrate has ordered the retrial of a former Midlands State University student accused of retweeting a message denigrating Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba.

Night Tawona Shadaya, 25, initially pleaded guilty after he was charged with criminal insult charge for retweeting a message besmirching Chigumba in the aftermath of the hotly-contested July 30 elections.

Attorneys for Shadaya filed a request at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts to change his guilty plea, which has been granted.

Shadaya will now appear before the same court on November 5 for trial on the charges of criminal insult as defined in section 95 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act).

In passing her ruling, Mugwagwa said: “It is clear from the State case that the essential elements were not canvassed. It is fundamental that the trial must commence.”

The 25-year-old had initially been convicted on his own plea of guilty but later changed his plea after Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) assumed his legal representation.

When ZLHR took over legal representation, they filed an application advising the court that Shadaya will be changing his plea, with the State opposing the application.

Through his lawyer Noble Chinhanu, Shadaya argued that when the matter was first heard, he had no understanding of the essential elements of the charges he is facing and had therefore mistakenly pleaded guilty.

Chinhanu said his client had clearly stated before the court that he was not aware that the Twitter account was bogus and assumed he was merely repeating what Chigumba had said.

“The offence against the accused person is that of intention. He never had any intention of raising the offence but was never afforded a chance to raise his defence since the crucial elements which form the basis of the case were not explained to him and were missing from the charge sheet,” Chinhanu submitted.

“My client genuinely believed that the account belonged to Chigumba at the time of retweeting and therefore did not impair the reputation of the complainant. She did that herself.”

However, prosecutor Fransisca Mukumbiri said ignorance of the law was not an excuse and cannot be used as an excuse to change the plea. The bogus tweet which was circulated by Shadaya purported to be from Chigumba’s account read: “I can’t wait for the election fiasco to come to an end. I could do with a holiday and some good sex. My body needs a break.”

Shadaya popularly known for Whatsapp memes got arrested following a report to the police by Chigumba.

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