Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Zimbabwe: Opposition's Mamombe, Chimbiri Acquitted On Communicating Falsehoods

Citizens Coalition for Change activists Joana Mamombe and Cecilia Chimbiri have been acquitted on charges of publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the state after they were abducted and tortured in 2020.

The two were initially charged with their friend Netsai Marova who skipped the country.

Their freedom comes after three years of prosecution during which they denied the allegations insisting that they were victims in the case.

The duo’s attorneys from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) confirmed the development saying: “Zim High Court has vindicated 2 victims of torture, Harare West MP Hon. @JoanaMamombe and @ceechimbiri2, one of opposition @CCCZimbabwe party leaders by acquitting them on charges of communicating falsehoods for allegedly faking their abduction &torture in 2020.”

The opposition activists alleged they were seized by state security agents who subjected them to torture and sexual abuse as punishment for staging an anti-government protest which their abductors equated to an attempt to overthrow government.

After their arrest, the three were denied bail by magistrate Vongai Guuriro Muchuchuti who ruled they were likely to abscond and continue committing offences.

Through their lawyers, Alec Muchadehama and Jeremiah Bamu, Mamombe and accomplices took the matter up to the High Court arguing that the magistrate erred in denying them bail.

The state alleged the trio was caught on CCTV, shopping at Belgravia Shopping Centre in Harare during the period of their alleged abduction.

However after they were found at Muchapondwa Business Centre near Bindura they were taken from the hands of the police to the hospital in a state undeniable for someone to conclude they had been physically and sexually abused.

Muchadehama accused the State of punishing his clients over the hype their case was given by social media.

“The appellants did not publish anything. The publicity happened before they were found. For the magistrate to punish them over that will be a misdirection,” he said.

Mamombe and Chimbiri were acquitted after they mounted an appeal against magistrate Vongai Guuriro Muchuchuti at the High Court.

The magistrate had dismissed their application for discharge at the close of State’s case ruling that the two had a case to answer and should proceed to defence hearing.

In discharging her ruling, High Court judge Justice Priscilla Munangati Manongwa said the lower court erred in failing to discharge the two at the close of State’s case.

The judge said it was clear that the State case was marred with malice and falsehoods.

“The misapplication of the law by the court coupled by the failure to find that the evidence placed before the court did not suffice to put the applicants to their defence, makes the decision irrational.

“Thus as stated in the foregoing paragraphs the decision of the first respondent (Vongai Guuriro Muchuchuti) is found to be grossly unreasonable, irrational, characterized by bias and malice and cannot be in accordance with real and substantial justice.

“The applicants cannot be pushed into a defence case to supplement the inadequacies of the State case and hope that in the process they incriminate themselves,” said the judge.

The judge also said to adopt such an approach would be unconstitutional and against the principles that place the burden on the State to prove its case and in this case on a prima facie basis at the close of the State case.

“It is not for the court to try and prop up a crumbling case, a court has to acquit in the absence of evidence to support an essential element of a charge, or where the evidence is manifestly unreliable that no reasonable court can act on it.