On Thursday, a Bulawayo magistrate set aside a ruling on a case against the leaders of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), who are facing two ‘nuisance' charges for organizing demonstrations.
Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were arrested in October 2008 and June 2008 and were charged under the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and Miscellaneous Offences Act respectively. Both draconian Acts deal with issues relating to ‘acting in a manner which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace or to create a nuisance, disturbing peace, security or order of the public'.
A statement by the pressure group said the defense team is calling for the dismissal of these charges on the basis of a Supreme Court precedent set in 1994, that ruled that by their nature, demonstrations are public and are held in public places and therefore will cause some form of public disturbance. The ruling also decreed that as peaceful demonstrations are allowed under the constitution, those participating in peaceful demonstrations cannot be charged with disturbing the peace.
WOZA has been at the forefront of peaceful protests against the Mugabe regime, calling for a better standard of living. The activists, in some cases with their babies, have been arrested and beaten many time over the years, just for exercising their constitutional right to demonstrate.
Furthermore the recent October arrest of the duo, including several WOZA activists who were later released, was in violation of a power sharing agreement between ZANU PF and the two MDC formations.
The group said Magistrate Msipa will decide next Tuesday whether to proceed with the trial under the current charges, or to dismiss them.
Meanwhile civil leader Jestina Mukoko and scores of other civic and political activists are still incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. They face charges of plotting to overthrow the Mugabe regime. The activists have testified in court that they were tortured into making recorded submissions of the alleged terrorism plot and completely deny all charges.
Lawyer Andrew Makoni said the individuals are still waiting to be taken to a private hospital, in spite of court rulings ordering that they should be given urgent medical attention. Some of the detainees are expected to appear in court again on Friday for more remand hearings.
State security agents abducted the activists and their whereabouts were not known for several weeks. A number of those abducted are still missing.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has demanded the immediate release of the activists as one of his conditions for entering a unity government with Robert Mugabe. The MDC says the continued unlawful remand and detention of these individuals is in breach of the rule of law and the Global Political Agreement, signed in September last year.