By Professor Matodzi
CHITUNGWIZA, 07 January 2016 – Three juveniles have been set free after languishing in police cells for two days following their arrest during a dragnet operation conducted by Zimbabwean police in the dormitory town.
Police on Tuesday picked up Lizbert Saruchera aged 15 years, Takudzwa Chirwadzimba aged 16 and Simbarashe Nkwezaramba aged 19 years during a dragnet arrest conducted by police officers after they cracked down on commuter omnibus crews who stormed council offices over exorbitant commuter operating fees fixed at $100 per year.
Lizbert, a Form 2 student at Mutero High School in Masvingo and Takudzwa, an Ordinary Level student at Zengeza 2 High School in Chitungwiza and Simbarashe endured two nights in police detention together with 31 other accused persons before their lawyer Kennedy Masiye of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights challenged their detention.
The juveniles were charged together with 31 other accused persons with contravening Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 for committing public violence.
In court, prosecutors claimed that the juveniles together with their co-accused persons barricaded roads with stone boulders at Chigovanyika Shopping Centre in Chitungwiza and threw stones at some police officers who were dispersing a “riotous mob” which was demonstrating against Chitungwiza Municipality for hiking annual commuter operating fees.
Lizbert and Takudzwa were granted free bail by Chitungwiza Magistrate Rekina Dzikiti while Simbarashe was ordered to pay $50 bail. The other 31 accused persons were also freed on $50.
Masiye told Radio VOP that he argued that the reasons advanced by the State in opposing bail such as the fear that the accused persons could incite other people to demonstrate against Chitungwiza Municipality and that they could abscond because of the “gravity of the offence” were not convincing as insinuated by the Constitution that an accused person can only be denied bail if there are compelling reasons to do so.
“They were just taken from their houses in a dragnet arrest and there was no mention in the state papers of who did what. So the Magistrate agreed with our submissions and set them free them,” said Masiye.
Detention of juveniles is common in Zimbabwe, where police often swoop on political and human rights activists.
In 2008, state security agents abducted and kept incommunicado Nigel Mutemagawu, a two year old minor together with his parents whom the authorities accused of plotting to unseat President Robert Mugabe’s administration.
The Zimbabwean government has in recent days and months increasingly relied on sending police officers onto the streets and in high density suburbs to suppress mounting dissension against Mugabe’s rule as Zimbabwe grapples with an agonising economic and political crisis which critics blame on state mismanagement