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Court Orders Release of 3 Zimbabwe NGO Leaders

FILE: One of the arrested leaders is a colleague of Occupy Africa Leaders Itai Dzamara who was abducted by unknown assailants four months ago.

A Harare magistrate today ordered the immediate release of three civil society leaders who were arrested Saturday after finding that the state had violated the constitution.

Combined Harare Residents Association director Mfundo Mlilo, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition’s programs manager, Nixon Nyikadzino, and deputy national chairperson of the Africa Unity Square pressure group, Dirk Frey, who were arrested outside the magistrates court on Saturday were arraigned before Harare magistrate today facing charges of violating the Public Order and Security Act and the Protected Areas Act.

After the charges were read to the accused by state attorney, Idah Maromo, defense counsel Gift Mtisi challenged the placement of the accused on remand arguing that Mlilo, Nyikadzino and Frey were being held illegally.

Mtisi submitted that the state had violated the national constitution by failing to bring the accused persons to court within 48 hours as stipulated in Zimbabwe’s supreme law.

But the state counsel opposed Mtisi’s application saying the accused persons were brought to court before the 48 hour period had lapsed and were ordered by the prosecution to return to the police station to correct some typographical errors on the charge sheet.

However, Mtisi argued that the trio should be released because they had not been arraigned before a magistrate at the expiry of the stipulated period even though they were brought to court before that time period had expire.

In his ruling, magistrate Tendai Mahwe found that the state had violated a section of the constitution that he said is explicit that accused people should appear before a competent court before the constitutionally-stipulated timeframe had lapsed.

Mtisi welcomed the court’s ruling and urged authorities to adhere to the national governing charter whenever they were dealing with suspects.

Mlilo, Nyikadzino and Frey were arrested on Saturday at the magistrates court where they had gone to hear a case of other civil society members accused of taking pictures at a protected area who were arrested Friday at the Harare Remand Prison where leaders of some non-governmental organizations had visited the jailed leaders of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe, Samuel Wadzai and Sten Zviorwadza.

Wadzai and Zvorwadza are facing charges of public violence after they allegedly assaulted Harare municipal police when went to the city council headquarters demanding the release of wares of illegal street traders that had been confiscated by the local authority during a crackdown on illegal vendors.