"Six Zimbabwe socialists, including myself, remain charged with “inciting public violence”, following the dismissal by the magistrate of our application for a discharge in Harare last week. We were arrested on February 19 2011, while meeting to watch video footage of democracy protests in Egypt and Tunisia. Forty-five comrades were originally charged with treason for attending the International Socialist Organisation film screening, and one, David Mpatsi, died following a rapid deterioration in his health while he was imprisoned and denied medical treatment. Although the treason charges were eventually dropped, inciting public violence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
Our lawyer had applied for the discharge at the close of the state’s case, on the basis that it had failed to produce sufficient evidence to require us putting our defence. But the magistrate ruled, without giving any explanation, that the state had established a prima facie case, so the trial is set to continue on February 27. Hopefully we will finish giving our evidence on March 2, but we are now aware of the state’s deliberately frustrating delaying tactics.
It is clear that the state aims to continue with its harassment of any opposition voice despite what transpired during the trial with its ‘star witness’. He called himself Jonathan Shoko and said he was a police officer attached to the Criminal Investigation Unit, but was exposed to be from the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (secret police) and his real name was Rodwell Chitiyo. He took an oath under a false name.
The main purpose of this witness, who had attended the ISO meeting, was to incriminate innocent people. But his evidence, upon which the state is relying, lacked any credibility. He not only lied about his identity, but also about what happened, and it is interesting to note that even the state-sponsored Herald newspaper pointed to the loopholes. The same magistrate could be seen laughing during the time ‘Shoko’ was giving his hilarious, made-up and rehearsed evidence. Any magistrate in an open and democratic society would surely have dismissed the case immediately. When he was handing down the ruling, he avoided looking at us - an indication that it had been decided by someone other than himself.
The trial is just one example of the harassment of any opposition. On February 14 the police violently broke up the march on parliament organised by the radical Women of Zimbabwe Arise, and a week earlier dozens of armed riot police prevented an academic lecture on ‘The global financial crisis and implication for the third world: the case for Zimbabwe’ from taking place. It was to be addressed by professor Patrick Bond from South Africa at a city hotel, but the police turned away anybody they thought might be participants.
All this sends a strong message of intimidation by Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, as we move towards the proposed constitutional referendum and, possibly, elections this year. The intimidation is meant to silence any opposing voice, as the Zimbabwean political crisis nears its climax.
We were saddened by the court ruling not only for our own sake, but for the sake of all Zimbabweans who are willing to fight against the system. Though we had hoped to celebrate the first anniversary of our arrest as free people on February 19, we remain optimistic that we will come through - especially with the support that we continue to receive from our families, friends, comrades in Zimbabwe and throughout the world.
We are stepping up our campaign to put the government under pressure to drop the charges against us and we appeal to comrades outside the country to help us in doing this. The ruling showed that the state thinks it can do anything and, if pressure is not put on them, we will find ourselves sent back to Chikurubi prison."