By Professor Matodzi
Harare, September 06, 2015 – President Robert Mugabe’s government has been ordered to compensate a villager whose rights were violated when he was wrongfully arrested last year in a fresh kick in the teeth of Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.
Chiredzi Magistrate Tafadzwa Mhlanga on Friday ordered Chombo and Chihuri to pay $550 to Zulu Jinya, a Chingwizi villager, in delictual damages arising from unlawful arrest, detention and assault.
Jinya, an internally displaced person (IDP) living in Chingwizi in Masvingo province was arrested in August last year together with other villagers and charged with committing public violence following an alleged mutiny at the transit camp. But he was acquitted of committing the offence last December prompting his lawyers Peggy Tavagadza and Blessing Nyamaropa from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to file a civil claim amounting to $3 000 as compensation for the violation of his fundamental rights including being assaulted upon arrest and in detention.
In a ruling handed down on Friday after a full trial of Chombo and Chihuri who were cited as defendants in their official capacity and were being held vicariously liable for the acts of their subordinates who unleashed a wave of terror at Chingwizi Transit Camp in August last year, Magistrate Mhlanga condemned the police practice of assaulting suspects in custody which he said has over the years been treated with impunity and as such the courts should send a clear message that no one is above the law.
Magistrate Mhlanga said he was not satisfied that police officers who arrested Jinya had reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence. Jinya had demanded payment amounting to $3 000 from Chombo and Chihuri and the Officer In Charge of Triangle Police Station whom he accused of authorising the deployment of some police officers who indiscriminately arrested and severely assaulted him together with some Chingwizi IDPs last August.
During the trial, Jinya argued that there was no evidence adduced in court confirming that he participated in committing public violence and that he was an IDP who unfortunately found himself holed up at Chingwizi Transit Camp after being forcibly evicted from Tokwe-Mukorsi by the government in February last year.
Police launched a pre-dawn raid on Chingwizi Transit Camp in August last year where they rounded up close to 300 villagers in a crackdown which netted some IDPs whom they deemed a threat and which culminated in the torching of the villagers’ tents.
The police later trimmed down the number of detained villagers to 29 before charging them with committing public violence in contravention of Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The police and prosecutors claimed that the villagers including an 84 year-old village head Kandros Purazeni masterminded the assault of police officers and burnt police vehicles and rifles when they protested against the forced relocation of a clinic from Chingwizi Transit Camp to Nuanetsi Ranch.
Apart from Jinya, close to 30 villagers are anticipating outcomes to their civil claims for the violation of their rights after the conclusion of the trials of Chombo and Chihuri this week.
Last year, two Nyanga Police Station based officers only identified as Kapfunde and Kambanje were ordered to pay $3 000 in damages for torturing Tsitsi Chimhutu, hotel security guard when they were investigating a break in at Montclair Hotel last year.
Chimhutu, who was represented by Tavagadza of ZLHR was tortured while police tried to induce a confession in a case of $2 500 which had gone missing. Mutare Magistrate Yeukai Chigodora awarded $3 000 as delictual damages to Chimhutu – who can no longer carry her less than two-year-old baby as her back was damaged during the torture.
Zimbabwean police have in recent years been implicated and named and shamed for violating the rights of several human rights and political activists through assault and torture. Local and international human rights organisations have protested against the deployment of Zimbabwean police to serve on United Nations peace keeping missions arguing that they are not suitable for such deployments as they are regularly fingered in the abuse and violation on citizens’ rights.