The ICJ today called on the Zimbabwe government to stop using the highly criticized offence of “subverting a constitutional government” to punish human rights defenders for the exercise of fundamental freedoms protected under international and Zimbabwe Law.
George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura Nyasha Mpahlo, Farirai Gumbonzvanda, Rita Nyamupinga, and Stabile Dewa, referred to by the media as the “Zimbabwe 7”, have been charged under section 22 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] and will face a bail hearing, due to be heard at the High Court in Harare on 6 and 7 June 2019.
“The Zimbabwean authorities need to desist from the growing practice of abusing the offence of subverting a constitutional government as an instrument to persecute human rights defenders through abuse of the legal system,” said Arnold Tsunga, ICJ’s Africa Director.
“The oppressive and retaliatory use of law by government violates the rule of law and human rights as guaranteed in the Zimbabwean Constitution as well as in regional and global human rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is a State party,” he added.
The ICJ has previously shown that the law of subversion in Zimbabwe has been used often against HRDs who peacefully exercise their fundamental freedoms, with no single conviction to date.
The law violates the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (both of which Zimbabwe is a party to), including the rights of persons to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 9 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; article 19 ICCPR), freedom of assembly (article 11 ACHPR; 21 ICCPR) article, freedom of association (article 10 ACHPR; article 22 ICCPR), and the right to political participation (article 25 ICCPR).
The UN Declaration on Human Rights defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly, requires that States afford particular protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) who exercise these rights.
HRDs charged with this offence can face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and have often been denied bail for some periods, in contravention of international law, which provides that charged persons should generally not be held in pre-trial detention. Such prolonged pretrial detention effectively serves as pre-trial punishment of suspects.
“Criminal law must never be used as a means to silence opposition or persecute human rights defenders, which also necessarily has a chilling on others who perform critical human rights work. It is important that the police do not arrest to investigate but they must investigate before they arrest,” said Tsunga.
Arnold Tsunga, ICJ’s Africa Director, t: +27716405926 ; e: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.org
Four human rights defenders, George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura and Nyasha Mpahlo were arrested on 20th May 2019 upon arrival at Robert Mugabe International Airport, Harare from the Maldives where they had attended a workshop on human rights work. Law enforcement officials alleged in the charge sheet that,” during the workshop, the four had received training on the use of small weapons, how to mobilize citizens to turn against the government and to engage in acts of civil disobedience and or resistance to law during anticipated national protests. Law enforcement agents confiscated the HRDs’ laptops and cell phones. In similar fashion, Social Justice and Girls’ Rights advocate Farirai Gumbonzvanda was arrested upon arrival at the Harare airport on 21 May. Charged with the offence of subverting constitutional government as defined in section 22(2)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, all five persons remain in custody as their application for bail in the High Court of Zimbabwe has been postponed to 7th June 2019.
In related circumstances, Director of Female Prisoners Support Trust, Rita Nyamupinga and Stabile Dewa, Director of Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence were arrested on 28 May 2019 soon after they arrived at the Harare airport. They were taken to Harare Central Police Station without having an opportunity to consult their lawyers. Both women have also been charged with subverting constitutional government and have been remanded in custody since 29th May 2019 pending their bail hearing today.