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Zimbabwe Magistrate Exonerates Job Sikhala's 3 Acquaintances Facing Charges of Breaching COVID-19 Lockdown Regulations

Police arresting some political activists. (Courtesy photo: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights)
Police arresting some political activists. (Courtesy photo: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights)

A Harare Magistrate has exonerated three acquaintances of Zengeza West lawmaker, Job Sikhala, by quashing charges of breaching national lockdown regulations pressed against them last year.

According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Terrence Manjengwa, Blessed Changara and Barnabas Gura, who all reside in Harare were arrested on September 3, 2020, outside Harare Magistrates Court while following proceedings for Sikhala, who had been arrested and detained on charges of inciting public violence by urging people to participate during the July 31 anti-corruption protest.

They were charged with unnecessary movement during the national lockdown as defined in section 4(1)(a) of the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order Statutory Instrument 77/2020.

Prosecutors claimed that 26 year-old Manjengwa, Gura (32) and Changara (22) unlawfully and unnecessarily moved from their places of residence during the national lockdown imposed by government in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus by gathering at Harare Magistrates Court without exemption letters.

But Magistrate Barbara Mate upheld the trio’s application for exception and quashed the charge of violating national lockdown regulations.

Mateko’s decision came after Manjengwa, Gura and Changara’s lawyer Kossam Ncube of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights had objected to the charge of unnecessary movement during the national lockdown on the basis that it does not exist at law under the cited section.

Ncube had also argued that proceeding to trial with the charges as framed would amount to a violation of section 70(1)(b) of the Constitution as it abrogates the right to a fair trial and hence the trio must not plead to a nullity.

While Manjengwa, Gura and Changara have been set free on charges of contravening national lockdown regulations, their application excepting to charges of possession of offensive weapons at a public gathering as defined in section 43(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was dismissed by Mateko, who ordered the State to amend the charge of possession of weapons as prosecutors had cited a wrong section.

In their application for exception, Manjengwa, Gura and Changara had argued that the purported offence cited in the State papers is not established under the particular sub-section cited by prosecutors, hence no cause of action arises.

The trio had also argued that the failure by the State to cite the correct provision is so glaring that it cannot be condoned or be said to be inconsequential and to seek to commence a prosecution on non-existent charges is a grave anomaly and irregularity which will unduly prejudice and embarrass the accused persons.

Manjengwa, Gura and Changara return to court on June 25, 2021, where their trial on charges of possession of offensive weapons is scheduled to commence.