Evan Mawarire freed
Andrew Kunambura and Nyasha Chingono
FIREBRAND cleric, Evan Mawarire, who was arrested on Tuesday on charges of inciting public violence, has been set free by Harare magistrate, Vakayi Chikwekwe, after a swarm of defence lawyers led my Advocate Harrison Nkomo successfully blocked the state’s intention to smuggle fresh charges in court.
Mawarire was initially charged with inciting public violence relating to last week’s nationwide protests but prosecutor, Jonathan Murombedzi, assisted by Sebastian Mutizirwa, shocked a packed court when, appearing for the state, he altered the charges inside the court room, bringing a more grievous charge of attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government.
However, the move proved to be a fatal blunder as Nkomo immediately rose to challenge it, since Mawarire was not informed of the charges on arrest, he was being illegally arraigned before the court.
According to section 50 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, which addressed rights of accused persons, every person has the right to be informed of the charges and be given time to adequately prepare his or her defence.
Such a move, argued Nkomo, was a nullity and therefore meant Mawarire was being illegally held.
“It takes us to the issue of arbitrary arrests because the accused was detained without being informed of the charges he was facing at the point of arrest. I therefore urge you your worship not to preside over an illegality,” he argued.
Nkomo also told the court that there was no warned and cautioned statement relating to the fresh charges that carry a mandatory jail sentence of up to 20 years.
Murombedzi however tried frantically to rescue the situation, telling the court that there was nothing amiss about alteration of the case since prosecution can alter charges considering facts brought by the police.
“Police gather facts and prepare their charges. Thereafter it is the duty of the state to press proper charges,” he argued.
The situation got desperate when the magistrate asked Murombedzi to produce the relevant warned and cautioned statement relating to the new charges, of which he admitted was not available.
This left Chikwekwe without any choice but free Mawarire.
Wild celebrations erupted in the courtroom following the ruling as the jubilant crowd predominated by lawyers broke into song and dance.
The news was also received with a thunderous fete outside the courts where thousands had spent the day waiting for the ruling.’
When Chikwekwe announced the ruling around7:15pm, the swelling crowd candles had been brought to help light the place as the restive crowd refused to disperse even at the presence of the heavily armed police officers, some of whom at one point stormed the courtroom with assault rifles.
After his release, the crowd still refused to disperse until he addressed had addressed them, and when he appeared amid wild screams and cheers, he simply said: “You have shown that Zimbabweans can be united. God bless you. Zimbabwe is yours and your children,” before he was whisked away in a waiting car.
The celebrations spilled onto the streets of Harare’s Central Business District, where people ran with flags wrapped around their necks and car horns flooded the city centre.
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