High Court Judge Samuel Kudya ruled on Wednesday that state prosecutors failed to show there was a threat to state security and had “bald and unsubstantiated” evidence against the six, including former opposition lawmaker Munyaradzi Gwisai.
Treason carries a possible death sentence in Zimbabwe. Gwisai and the co-accused were ordered to pay $2 000 bail each and to reappear for trial March 21.
Supporters of the group attending the hearing cheered and wept with joy as the ruling was delivered.
The group was arrested on February 19 for attending a meeting that showed footage of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Members deny any wrongdoing, saying the meeting was an academic lecture on democratic rights.
The same judge on Tuesday freed on bail Energy Minister Elton Mangoma who was jailed on corruption allegations. The judge said the state had no evidence he corruptly gained money from a deal to buy gasoline from neighbouring South Africa.
No iota of evidence
Attorneys for Mangoma, a founder of the former opposition party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai now in a shaky coalition with Mugabe, argue his arrest on March 10 was a political ploy to discredit close Tsvangirai aides.
Judge Kudya on Wednesday described the treason case against the six activists as “weak” and said state prosecutors were relying on the evidence of one witness who appeared to have been an undercover police informer whose credibility was in doubt.
“There is no iota of evidence any Zimbabwean contemplated attempting to emulate the Egyptian revolt. These are bald and unsubstantiated allegations,” the judge said.
The ruling was seen as a setback for security agencies loyal to Mugabe after a spate of arrests of leaders of civic groups and Tsvangirai’s party.
Gwisai and other members of the group complained at an earlier court hearing they were tortured by police and beaten with wooden planks and iron bars. They said they were also told to confess that they called for Mugabe’s ouster.
Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980. Critics accuse him of violently suppressing the opposition and destroying the country’s economy through a violent land redistribution programme.
Threats and intimidation
Though he entered in a power-sharing deal with Tsvangirai, the country’s longtime opposition leader after disputed, violence-plagued 2008 elections, Mugabe has said he has the power to unilaterally call elections this year to end the almost paralyzed coalition government.
Security authorities have said they will clamp down on any alleged plotters of “destabilisation”.
According to witnesses, Mugabe has deployed troops and his party militants across the country to canvas – with threats and intimidation – for support in upcoming elections.
Witnesses said militants on Monday raided an economy-rated Harare hotel and tore down a portrait of US President Barack Obama displayed in a bar, saying they did not allow Obama to have “pride of place” there. Another portrait of American movie icon Marilyn Monroe was left intact.
All Zimbabwe businesses must display Mugabe’s portrait and his was on show prominently in the hotel lobby. AP