Mutare, October 14, 2013 – A Zimbabwean court has acquitted a 36 year-old man who had been on trial on charges of undermining authority of or insulting President Robert Mugabe.
Nicholas Manditsera, an employee of the state-run National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) had been on trial since last week after he was arrested in September and charged with contravening Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, a law which has been routinely used to nail dozens of political and human rights activists as well as ordinary Zimbabweans.
According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the 36-year-old, who is employed as a passenger clerk at NRZ is alleged to have insulted President Mugabe by uttering unprintable insults referring to the octogenarian leader and his family.
However, Mutare Magistrate Chiwundura on Monday acquitted Manditsera after ruling that there were several inconsistences between the two State witnesses who testified during the trial.
In his defence, Manditsera, who denied uttering the offensive words charged that Murenje was out to fix him by bringing up the insult charges as there was a long standing acrimony between the two NRZ employees. The NRZ employee also argued that he objected to being supervised by his superior while at a bottle store.
Magistrate Chiwundura stated that it was glaring that witness statements were only recorded from Manditsera’s supervisor, Ronzerai Murenje and his unidentified relative and not from the other revelers who were present at Njanji bottle store where the offence is alleged to have been committed. The Magistrate said what was before the court was Manditsera’s word against that of the state witnesses and as such the court was left wondering who to believe. The Magistrate said owing to discrepancies between the testimony of the two state witnesses, Manditsera’s defence became probably true and as such the court acting carefully could not convict the NRZ passenger clerk.
Meanwhile, the trial of Abel Chikomo, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation suffered yet another false start on Monday after Harare Magistrate Tendai Mahwe postponed the case October 28, 2013.
Chikomo, whose trial had been rescheduled to commence on Monday could not start as the State’s house was not in order prompting prosecutors to seek for the postponement of the matter, a request which was opposed by Chikomo’s lawyer, Selby Hwacha of Dube Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners, who is also a board member for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Magistrate Mahwe postponed the trial to the end of this month.
Prosecutors claim that Chikomo contravened Section 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act Chapter 17:15 after he allegedly conducted some activities without being registered with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.
The charge, which Chikomo denies, came after the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a non-governmental umbrella organisation conducted a survey on transitional justice in Harare’s Highfield suburb.
The State says this was illegal since the organisation is not registered as a PVO. The State claims that he unlawfully instructed two of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s employees to commence or carry out a survey in Harare’s Highfield suburb with the intention to obtain people’s recommendations on the preferred transitional justice mechanism for Zimbabwe, without his organization registering with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.
Last year, Chikomo’s trial on the same charges, which first arose in February 2011, was shelved after State prosecutor Innocent Chingarande withdrew summons issued against him as the State was not ready to proceed with the matter.
Over the past two years, Chikomo has been interrogated and asked to report to the police station on several occasions on the activities carried out by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
ZLHR said the all-out judicial persecution to which Chikomo has been subjected for more than two years is yet another official harassment of civic organisations and human rights defenders operating in Zimbabwe.