Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) was Wednesday denied bail by a Harare magistrate following his arrest Monday on charges of fraudulently registering voters.
Mr. Machisa’s request for bail was opposed by the prosecution, which said he was a flight risk.
Submitting the application for bail, Beatrice Mtetwa, Machisa’s lawyer, said the accused is a good candidate for bail because he surrendered himself to the police.
Machisa, who took the witness stand, told the court that he learned that the police were looking for him from the January 4 High Court hearing of ZimRights employee Leo Chamahwinya.
Afterwards, according to the application, he contacted his attorney who then negotiated with police for Machisa to present himself at the station.
Prosecutor Michael Reza said the state opposed the bail application because Machisa had been “on the run” since last month's police raid on ZimRights offices and subsequent arrest of Chamahwinya.
But Mtetwa argued that her client was not in the country when Chamahwinya was arrested on December 14. She told the court that Machisa learnt of Chamahwinya’s arrest when he was in South Africa on his way to Poland to attend a three-day democracy conference in Warsaw.
She said the accused then returned to his home and went to work as usual, saying that the police never looked for him at his house or office.
In his ruling on the bail application, Magistrate Tendai Mahwe agreed that Machisa was a flight risk and should be remanded until January 30.
He ruled that Machisa’s release would cause a public outcry as the nature and severity of the case is of national interest.
The Case Against ZimRights
Mr. Reza said the prosecution has evidence to support the state's allegations of voter registration fraud, including voter registration slips, registration certificates and a numbering machine recovered from the ZimRights offices during the police raid.
Reza argued that this suggests that there is reasonable suspicion that Machisa was responsible for, or at least involved in, the alleged fraud.
Speaking for her client, Ms. Mtetwa denied that anything was recovered from the raid. Machisa told the court from the witness box that records at his offices show that the police confiscated nothing during the raid last December, or the second raid this week Monday following Machisa’s arrest.
The hearing was also briefly adjourned after Ms. Mtetwa protested against her client’s appearing in court wearing leg shackles"
The prosecution alleged that Machisa and others at ZimRights were using fake voter slips with fake names and dates of birth, with one fraudulently registered person alleged to have a date of birth of 1894.
The goal of the alleged fraud, according to Mr. Reza, was to disrupt or even invalidate national elections anticipated sometime this year.
Speaking after the hearing, Ms. Mtetwa told reporters that politics are being brought into the case unnecessarily.
Machisa’s affidavit, submitted to the court, said it would be unjust to remand him to prison because the prosecution’s original court documents list ZimRights, the organization, as the accused. This prompted the state to amend the papers to include Machisa as one of the accused.
The hearing was also briefly adjourned after Ms. Mtetwa protested against her client’s appearing in court wearing leg shackles.
Mr. Reza said this was being done for security reasons, citing a Kadoma magistrate whose arm was recently fractured by a suspect in a courtroom.
The presiding officer ordered the shackles to be removed and said prison authorities should prevent assaults in court by providing additional security personnel instead of bringing suspects to court in leg irons.