POLICE had to be called in to disperse agitated MDC Alliance supporters in Harare yesterday, after political activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was sentenced to an effective 14 months in prison for inciting public violence.
This comes as political tension is rising again in the country, amid fresh fears of violence as a reeling MDC Alliance feels the pressure on new fronts, including the threat of the coalition losing its name.
The sentencing of Haruzivishe witnessed rowdy scenes involving MDC Alliance supporters who had thronged Harare Magistrates’ Court in solidarity with the youthful activist — leading to clashes that left one freelance photojournalist, Sam Takawira, injured after he was caught up in the melee as he was filming proceedings.
Five activists, including Vongai Tome and Ngoni Dzapfumba, were subsequently arrested.
Elsewhere in Harare’s Central Business District, police maintained a strong presence, including mounting roadblocks which were jointly manned by other security agents.
National police spokesperson Paul Nyathi told the Daily News that law enforcement agents were on high alert and on the lookout for trouble makers bent on causing chaos.
“We call upon citizens to respect the country’s Covid-19 regulations. It is disheartening to note that people are taking Covid-19 for granted despite the evidence we have that it is real.
“We have arrested five political activists who violated Covid-19 regulations and they are currently in police custody at Harare Central Police Station.
“Anyone who is wont to cause chaos and mayhem will be dealt with severely in terms of the country’s laws,” Nyathi said.
Earlier, magistrate Judith Taruvinga had sentenced Haruzivishe — a former student leader who was answering to allegations of inciting public violence and resisting arrest — amid the tense atmosphere.
Haruzivishe was slapped with a 24-month prison term on the public violence incitement charge, but the court suspended 10 months on condition of good behaviour.
He was also slapped with 12 months imprisonment for resisting arrest, of which six months were set aside. However, Taruvinga said both sentences would run concurrently.
The court said although Haruzivishe was a first offender, his actions had resulted in turmoil in the capital.
The State, arguing in aggravation, said public violence leads to destruction of property, injury and death of people — and thus needed to be condemned.
Haruzivishe’s lawyer had called for a non-custodial sentence, saying the degree of violence from his alleged actions had not been ascertained.
The court heard that on February 5 last year, police were on a blitz against vendors in Harare when Haruzvishe started mobilising the public — trying to make them revolt against law enforcement agents.
He is said to have started throwing stones at the police and their vehicle. One of the cops tried to arrest him, but he resisted — only being overpowered later when other officers joined in.
Haruzivishe has been in custody after his bail was revoked, after the court ruled that he had willfully defaulted attending court.
The activist has also been in custody on kidnapping allegations — after he was accused of conniving with others in locking in employees of Impala car rental company in the Harare city centre while protesting the arrest of colleague Takudzwa Ngadziore.
Addressing the media outside the court soon after Haruzivishe had been sentenced, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere described the judgement as unconstitutional and an abuse of the rule of law.
However, she was not able to finish her address as police arrived to disperse the gathering, saying people were violating Covid-19 regulations.
The under pressure MDC Alliance has been accusing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of clamping down on dissenting voices in the country on trumped up charges.
In a statement ahead of Haruzivishe’s sentencing, the coalition’s welfare secretary, Maureen Kademaunga, said Haruzivishe and other activists were being targeted because of their political beliefs.
“We make an urgent call for international human rights organisations to recognise the status of political prisoners for Haruzivishe, (Cecelia) Chimbiri, (Joanna) Mamombe, Tinashe Bwanaisa, Rakeshi Marufu, Collin Paison, Tafara Mafunde, Farai Chidziva and Trust Nyamado.
“We call on the government for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and the nullification of their charges which are clearly punitive measures against the peaceful exercise of their rights.
“We call upon the United Nations to launch an urgent, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the abduction and torture of Cecelia Chimbiri, Joanna Mamombe and Netsai Marova.
“This is an outstanding criminal act of injustice which has also become the repeated arbitrary imprisonment of the three,” Kademaunga said.
The three political activists were arrested last year for allegedly lying about being tortured by security agents, who are said to have abducted them from the police, beaten and sexually assaulted them before forcing them to drink each other’s urine. – Daily News