WASHINGTON DC —
Harare Magistrate Donald Ndirowei on Wednesday ruled in favour of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, effectively putting brakes on what GALZ lawyers say is state persecution of the organization by quashing charges that the outfit was unregistered and therefore running illegally in the country.
Ndirowei granted the application for exception to the charge filed by GALZ lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara of Mupanga Bhatasara Attorneys, a member of the ZLHR.
Martha Tholana was charged Monday by the state on behalf of GALZ for allegedly running an unregistered organization. She pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In objecting to the charge of running an “unregistered” organisation, Bhatasara argued the charge does not disclose an offence or the commission of an offence in view of a High Court order granted last month by Justice Priscilla Chigumba exempting GALZ from registering under the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Act.
Magistrate Ndirowei ruled that GALZ is not obliged to register under the PVO Act and therefore the state could not prosecute the organisation as the High Court order issued last month exempting it from registering was still binding.
The magistrate said he could not be seen interfering with a ruling of a Superior Court.
Prosecutors preferred charges of running an unregistered organisation against Tholanah in August 2012 after police raided and searched the GALZ offices in Harare.
The prosecutors claimed Tholanah unlawfully took part in the management of GALZ by gathering the organisation’s members and continued to carry out activities while “engaging in gays and lesbians activities” in contravention of the PVO Act.
The search at the GALZ offices was preceded by what the group says were instances of police harassment of GALZ members while some materials, including computers and fliers, were confiscated.
Last week Justice Chigumba ordered Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and other senior officers and the Home Affairs Minister to return the GALZ property seized in 2012.
The order followed a court application by Bhatasara filed in the High Court in October 2012 seeking the release of the property. He argued that it was not linked to the commission of any crime.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police opposed the application and argued it would not release the property until the completion of their probe, adding they also wanted to use the items as exhibits in court.
Justice Chigumba also declared invalid and set aside the warrant of search and seizure issued by the police in 2012.
The search and seizure, the High Court Judge said, was unlawful and contravened the rights of GALZ as specified in Section 17 of the former Constitution of Zimbabwe and Section 57 of the current Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The High Court Order further stated that GALZ is not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act [Chapter 17:05] as it is not a private voluntary organisation and is specifically exempted by the Act.