ZLHR encouraged by court's decision ordering return of confiscated GALZ property

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) welcomes the High Court’s decision issued on Tuesday 14 January 2014 ordering Zimbabwean authorities to return property belonging to the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), which was seized from the organisation’s offices in August 2012.

Members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) raided the GALZ offices in Harare’s Milton Park suburb in August 2012 and confiscated computers, DVDs, pamphlets, compact discs and various documents. The police action was purportedly based on a search warrant in which the law enforcement agents claimed that GALZ was in “possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution”.

However, High Court judge, Justice Priscilla Chigumba ordered Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Chief Superintendent Henry Dhowa, Detective Chief Inspector Runganga, Detective Assistant Ben Justen, and the Co-Ministers of Home Affairs to return the property belonging to GALZ.

The granting of the order came after Tonderai Bhatasara, of Mupanga Bhatasara Attorneys, who is a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, filed an application in the High Court in October 2012 seeking the release of the GALZ property, arguing that it was not linked to the commission of any crime. The ZRP had opposed the application and argued that it would not release the property until the completion of their probe and because they wanted to use the items as exhibits in court.

Justice Chigumba also declared invalid and set aside the warrant of search and seizure issued by Dhowa and executed by Runganga and Justen when they raided the GALZ offices. The search and seizure, the High Court Judge said, was unlawful and contravened the rights of GALZ as specified in Section 17 of the former Constitution of Zimbabwe and Section 57 of the current Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The High Court Order further stated that GALZ is not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act [Chapter 17:05] as it is not a private voluntary organisation and is specifically exempted by the Act.

The relief comes at a time when the State had set Wednesday 29 January 2014 as the trial date for Martha Tholanah, the GALZ chairperson on charges of running an “unregistered” organisation. It remains to be seen how prosecutors will now deal with that matter in light of the High Court ruling.

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