Zimbabwean lawyers have been given only limited access to 46 civil rights activists who were arrested in Harare on the weekend. They are expected to be charged on Monday over allegations they planned “Egyptian-style” protests, their lawyers said.
“From the time they were arrested around 4pm [on Saturday], they were denied access to lawyers for about 24 hours. The only access lawyers had to them was on Sunday, briefly from five until about seven,” said Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). Members of the organisation are representing the activists.
Hanzi said that in that time, eight of the activists reported that they had been tortured while in custody. “Lawyers will formally demand that the tortured clients be examined by medical staff so they can raise it when they are presented to the magistrate,” she said.
Hanzi said police have indicated that the detainees may be charged under section 22(2)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code — attempting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means.
Academic debate and dissent
Marufu Mandevere, a lawyer for the group, said the activists have denied allegations of plotting an uprising, and will argue they were only having an “academic debate”.
The 46 activists were attending a public lecture themed “Egypt and Tunisia — what lessons for the working class in Zimbabwe and Africa?”
Police spokesperson James Sabau said videos of the Egypt protests had been shown at the meeting “to inspire and motivate people to demonstrate against the government”.
But a relative of one of the arrested activists, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said: “When did it become a crime to discuss politics in Zimbabwe? It’s obviously become a crime now.”
Zimbabwe’s top security officials, including Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, have warned against any attempts at mass uprising, saying any attempts would be crushed by the army and police.
No formal charges
The activists are being detained at Harare Central Police Station and have yet to be formally charged. The group comprises members of activist organisations and workers’ unions, among them the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union, and includes a former member of Parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change, Munyaradzi Gwisa.
Hanzi said that according to Zimbabwean law, a person who has been arrested must be charged within 48 hours of their arrest. However, there is some debate about how the 48 hours is calculated. By one measure, the state will need to charge the activists by the end of Monday, that is, 48 hours from when they were first arrested. But by another, the 48 hours would be calculated only on working days, in which case the state has until the end of Tuesday to lay charges.
Lawyers from ZLHR were advised by police to check on their clients at 10am on Monday but the meeting did not take place. They were later asked to return to Harare Central Police Station at 2pm because police are still holding a meeting regarding the detainees.