Opposition activists rearrested; one charged
Joana Mamombe, an MDC Alliance legislator for Harare West, Cecilia Chimbiri, the MDC Youth National Vice Chairperson and Netsai Marova, Youth Deputy Organising Secretary, were arrested on 13 May 2020 for leading an anti-government protest taking place that day over the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak and hunger in the country. They were arrested at a police roadblock manned by police and soldiers near Warren Park, along Bulawayo Road in Harare. They were taken to Harare Central Police Station where they were asked to get into another vehicle under the pretext that they were being taken to Warren Park Police Station. According to the activists, they were hooded and driven to an unknown place where they were beaten on the soles of their feet, sexually assaulted and forced to eat human excreta. On 14 May, the national police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed their arrest, though he was not aware of where they were being held. But on the same day, the police denied the activists were in their custody, through their official Twitter account.
In the early hours of 15 May, the three activists were found dumped in the town of Bindura, 87 km from Harare, with their clothes torn and brutally assaulted. They were hospitalised. Whilst in hospital the authorities charged them for breaching Section 37 of Criminal Code, that is gathering with intent to promote public violence, breach of peace, which provides for imprisonment up to five years or a fine or both and Section 5(3) and (1) of Statutory Instrument 99/20 that prohibits gatherings, which provides for one-year imprisonment or a fine or both. Through a special court hearing conducted in hospital, the three were granted bail of ZWD$1 000.
On 10 June, the three activists were arrested whilst at their lawyers’ offices. They were accused of lying about their torture and charged with Section 31 (a)(1)(iii) of the Criminal Law Act- which is communicating or publishing false statement prejudicial to the state, as well as section 184(1)(f) of the Criminal Law Act which is defeating or obstructing the course of justice as defined in section 184(1)(f). They were denied bail on 15 June and remanded in custody until 26 June. Whilst in custody they were denied access to food from their relatives. Their lawyers appealed to the High Court. On 26 June, the High Court granted them bail under onerous conditions including bail of ZWD $10,000.00 (around USD $177 at the Government Interbank Rate), reporting 3 times a week to the police and barring them from communicating about their matter directly or otherwise with any of the public and or private media, including social media.
On the day of their arrest, on 10 June, nine UN Special Rapporteurs called for an end to abductions and torture and for their charges to be immediately dropped. Some government officials including the Minister of Justice, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting have dismissed their disappearance and claimed that it had been ‘stage managed’ by the opposition. After their abduction, the Minister of Justice came out calling for their arrest in May. The Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage gave a statement poking loopholes in their story and accusing them of seeking Western sympathy before instituting an investigation. He also accused the doctors who examined them of being anti- government.
On 13 August, a Harare magistrate erroneously issued an arrest warrant for Joana Mamombe following claims that she had failed to turn up for court. The warrant of arrest was cancelled after the state realised, thanks to an intervention by her lawyer, that Joana Mamombe was not supposed to appear in court on the day in question.