Acquittal of Mr. Joel Hita and ZimRights - ZWE 001 / 0210 / OBS 023.4

26/01/2012
Urgent Appeal

January 26, 2012

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the following situation in Zimbabwe.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) about the acquittal of Mr. Joel Hita, ZimRights Regional Chairperson in Masvingo, and ZimRights, represented by Ms. Pelagia Razemba Semakweli, Acting National Chairperson.

According to the information received, on January 23, 2012, Magistrate Mwanyisa (Masvingo jurisdiction) acquitted Mr. Joel Hita and Ms. Pelagia Razemba Semakweli of charges of “holding a public meeting without notifying the authorities” under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) after they organised a photo exhibition entitled “Reflections” in Masvingo in 2010, which showcased pictures on political violence during the pre-electoral context in 2008 (See background information). This acquittal followed an application for exception to the charges, filed on the same date by defence lawyer Blessing Nyamaropa, member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), based on the repeal of said offence in 2007. The application was conceded by the Public Prosecutor.

The Observatory welcomes the acquittal of ZimRights and Mr. Hita, and thanks all the persons, institutions and organisations who intervened in their favour. However, the Observatory remains concerned by the recurrent use of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, which merely aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, and calls upon the Zimbabwean authorities to put an immediate end to this practice.


Background information:

On March 17 and 19, 2010, the police interrogated Mr. Okay Machisa, ZimRights Executive Director, and Ms. Olivia Gumbo, ZimRights National Programme Manager, about the objective and intents of a photo exhibition entitled “Reflections”, scheduled to open in Harare on March 24, 2010 as part of a programme to incite reflections on the 2008 political violence. Previously, ZimRights had sent a notification letter of the exhibition to the police and secured an authorisation from the Harare High Court.

On March 23, 2010, Mr. Okay Machisa was arrested by a group of 20 officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), who also removed, without any warrant, 65 pictures showing the use of violence to disperse demonstrations. Mr. Machisa was brought to the Harare central police station, until his release a few hours later following the intervention of the ZLHR. The officer commanding Harare central district informed him that he had “not approved” the exhibition and gave Mr. Machisa seven days to provide “letters of consent from individuals and organisations” appearing in the photographs. He threatened to launch unspecified criminal charges against Mr. Machisa if he failed to provide those documents. On March 24, 2010, the police returned the photos to ZimRights following an order of the High Court issued on the same day.

On April 26, 2010, a group of police officers arrested Mr. Joel Hita, Ms. Olivia Gumbo, Ms. Cynthia Manjoro and Ms. Lio Chamahwinya, members of ZimRights, while they were preparing the launch of the same photo exhibition in Masvingo. Once more, the police confiscated all the pictures and took the defenders to the Masvingo police station. Everyone was released a few hours later, except Mr. Hita who was released on April 27, 2010. On April 28, he appeared before the Masvingo Magistrate Court on the charge of “holding a public meeting without notifying the authorities”, although the exhibition launch was a private function. On August 5, 2010, the Attorney General’s office also decided to prosecute ZimRights itself as an organisation for the same charges within the same criminal case [1].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Zimbabwe asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Pelagia Razemba Semakweli, Ms. Olivia Gumbo, Ms. Cynthia Manjoro and Ms. Lio Chamahwinya and Messrs. Okay Machisa, Nunurai Jena, Netsai Kaitano, Jabilusa Tshuma and Joel Hita, as well as of all ZimRights members and all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;

ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Pelagia Razemba Semakweli, Ms. Olivia Gumbo, Ms. Cynthia Manjoro and Ms. Lio Chamahwinya and Messrs. Okay Machisa, Nunurai Jena, Netsai Kaitano, Jabilusa Tshuma and Joel Hita as well as all ZimRights members and all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

iv. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.

Addresses:

· President of Zimbabwe, Mr. Robert G. Mugabe, Office of the President, Private Bag 7700, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 708 211 / + 263.4.70.38.58;

· Mr. Khembo Mohadi, co-Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 11th Floor Mukwati Building, Private Bag 7703, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 726 716;

· Mr. Giles Mutsekwa, co-Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 11th Floor Mukwati Building, Private Bag 7703, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 726 716;

· Mr. Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Fax: + 263 4 77 29 99 / +263 4 252 155;

· Mr. Augustine Chihuri, Commissioner General, Police Headquarters, P.O. Box 8807, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax : +263 4 253 212 / 728 768 / 726 084;

· Mr. Justice Johannes Tomana, Attorney-General, Office of the Attorney, PO Box 7714, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe, Fax: + 263 4 77 32 47;

· Mrs. Chanetsa, Office of the Ombudsman Fax: + 263 4 70 41 19;

· H.E. Mr. James Manzou, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin William Barbey 27, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 758 30 44, Email: zimbabwemission@bluewin.ch;

· Embassy of Zimbabwe in Brussels, 11 SQ Josephine Charlotte, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 96 05 / + 32 2 775 65 10, Email: zimbrussels@skynet.be.

Please also write to the embassies of Zimbabwe in your respective country.

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