HARARE – Three MDC Alliance youth activists accused of staging their abduction were denied bail by a magistrate on Monday.
Harare magistrate Bianca Makwande said their claims of torture and sexual assault by suspected state security agents had attracted negative international publicity, and harmed the country’s economy.
Harare West MP Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri had already been charged with coronavirus lockdown regulation violations after taking part in an anti-government protest on May 13, when prosecutors brought the new charges.
The women appeared in distress when they shuffled into court, and cried when they locked eyes with their relatives and friends in the public gallery.
Makwande after listening to arguments by the prosecution and their lawyers, said bail was a right according to the constitution and can only be denied where there are compelling reasons.
“These include the likelihood for the accused to commit a similar offence or to abscond among other reasons,” Makwande said.
“In essence, it is alleged by the state that three staged a demonstration against the recalliñg of their colleagues from parliament and also abuse of Covid-19 funds.
“The state argued that the three committed a very serious offence and are likely to flee if granted bail. The police also said they are yet to establish the accused’s real addresses since they gave different addresses, adding further that investigations were to be completed in 14 days.
“The accused vehemently denied the allegations and feel they are good candidates for bail, and that the investigating officer’s evidence was too comical for a court to accept that. They asserted that the charges are nonsensical.
“The court is of the view that the state’s opposition of bail in respect of propensity to commit a similar offence is acceptable. It is highly likely that if convicted, they will be given a stiff custodial sentence which may induce them to skip bail.”
The magistrate also appeared to attach some significance to evidence which the prosecution said it will present during trial, including CCTV footage which allegedly shows the three women at Belgravia Shopping Centre at 4.54PM – which is allegedly sometime after their lawyer and party reported them having been arrested at a police checkpoint near Harare Showgrounds.
“If proven, the video evidence that the three were free citizens at a time they were alleging to have been abducted may force them to skip bail. Court will place confidence in the officers of the court. I will believe the submissions of the state if they have evidence they adduced,” Makwande said.
The alleged abduction and torture of the three women had caused “negative publicity against the country”, and hurt the economy, the magistrate said, accepting prosecution arguments.
“The state says they faked their abduction, and that cannot be ignored. In that regard, bail is denied.”
Alec Muchadehama, the three women’s lawyer, gave notice to challenge placement of his clients on remand.
He also complained that the three were never given food since their detention last Friday.
“Food being brought by their relatives and lawyers is also being turned away,” the lawyer protested.
Muchadehama denies the activists faked their abductions, and says evidence from medical examinations will prove they were tortured after they were removed from a police station and driven to Bindura. They were held for two days before being dumped from a moving car roadside.