Travesty of justice

Police incompetence, political bias in the judiciary and inhuman prison conditions - five MDC-T activists, most of whom spent more than a year in remand prison for allegedly murdering a police officer in 2011, have spoken of the horror they endured.

In separate interviews, the activists spoke of torture, persecution and intimidation during both police and remand custody, saying the torment they suffered was meant to force them to admit that they killed Inspector Petros Mutedza on May 29 2011 in Harare.

Mutedza reportedly died from injuries sustained during a public disturbance when he led a team of officers to investigate an MDC-T public gathering. Police arrested 29 people indiscriminately. Twenty one of the suspects were acquitted last week, one died in prison and the remaining seven still face trial. Last September, Mutedza’s brother Tichaona told the police that the MDC-T activists were being persecuted, saying he suspected his brother had been killed by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation loyal to Zanu (PF).

The activists insist there was no basis for the police to arrest them in the first place, saying police officers acted on orders from Zanu (PF) members.

Paul Rukanda, the MDC-T Organising Secretary for Glen View South, one of those set to go for trial, blamed the police for “arresting to investigate”. He said the officers who arrested him had frequently attended MDC-T meetings and took him and others in merely because they were well known party supporters.

“They simply looked for prominent MDC-T people in the area and then hunted us down. If I was just an ordinary member of the party, I do not think I would have been arrested,” said Rukanda, adding that the police frequently assaulted him, forcing him to admit that he had killed Mutedza. “They never investigated anything,” he said.

In some cases Zanu (PF) members arrested the suspects and handed them over to the police. Francis Vambai, Nyamadzawo Gapara and Augustine Tengenyika were arrested on July 4 2011 on their way to a rally at the Zimbabwe grounds to be addressed by MDC-T President, Morgan Tsvangirai.

A group of Zanu (PF) youths stopped the commuter omnibus in which they were traveling and ordered the driver to go to the Budiriro 5 police post.

Vambai said the youths beat them in front of the police and ordered the cops to arrest them without a docket. The following morning they were told they were being charged with the murder of Mutedza.

“They told us we would be punished for supporting the MDC. We went to court and then were transferred to Harare Remand Prison,” added Vambai. Water was scarce, food poor and the toilets did not function, resulting in some of them getting ill.

Other MDC-T activists were transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Prison where conditions were equally deplorable. They say they were starved and beaten by prison officers. Female activists say they received degrading and humiliating treatment.

Kerina Dewa said they were forced to strip as male prison officers watched. “We would be told to go and sleep at 4pm and before that, everyone would be told to strip naked as the prison officers claimed that we could be hiding something,” she said.

Dewa is pained by the fact that she was accused of having been at the scene of the murder, despite her spirited attempts to prove that she was at a birthday party for her grandchild. “They (police) did not investigate anything. They did not even bother to go and check at Southerton police station to find out about the clearance for the birthday party,” said Dewa.

“Right now, we do not have a source of livelihood and this has been worsened by the fact that I have to look after my husband who suffered a stroke. I do not have anywhere to start from,” said Dewa.

All the activists interviewed have lost their sources of livelihood as a result of their imprisonment. One of them confessed that his wife had run away during his lengthy incarceration. They say the party is yet to come to their rescue.

Stanford Mangwiro was tortured by police at Harare Central and lost his front teeth, but received no medical attention. “I was arrested on 31 May and severely beaten by the police at Glen Norah station who said I was going to pay for killing their colleague. I also have a problem with my eyesight which I developed in remand prison.

“Our trial was also painful in the sense that we would spend up to three months without going to court and that robbed us of confidence that we would be free one day,” he said.

Edwin Muingiri, who has not yet been acquitted, said that the police refused to allow relatives to feed them in the police cells. “We ended up getting food from other inmates whose relatives would be allowed to bring them food,” he said.

The activists had several applications for bail turned down, as the state insisted they were a flight risk. This was in direct contrast to the case of six Zanu (PF) activists arrested on allegations of murdering MDC-T Ward 1 Chairman for Nyamapanda, Cephas Magura, who were granted $100 bail each by the High Court last year. Early last year, six police officers from Shamva accused of murdering local resident Luxmore Chivambo were granted $50 bail each.

During the acquittal of the 21 MDC-T activists, High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu blamed the police for failing to execute their mandate in a professional manner.

In a statement after the acquittal of the MDC activists, Amnesty International said that their arrest was a result of politicisation of the matter, which led to the police abandoning professionalism in the conduct of their duties.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum condemned police conduct during the arrest of the MDC-T activists and called for compensation for the victims.

“Those responsible must also be brought to justice. Further, the government, at its own expense, should ensure that the victims of gross injustice such as these receive compensation (both monetary and psychosocial support) together with a promise of non-repetition of such unfair treatment.

“One can only hope that the Judge’s disquiet with the police marks a new era in the effective administration of justice particularly the need for continued judicial oversight on police conduct and immediate redress in cases of public malfeasance,” said the Forum in a statement.

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