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FILE: A woman lies in the road after been injured by police during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug, 16, 2019. This is the woman Doubt Asima tried to help.

A Zimbabwean court today acquitted Doubt Asima, a freelance journalist, who had been on trial on charges of committing public violence after he was arrested when he tried to rescue an elderly woman, who was assaulted by some Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers during an anti-government protest held in August last year.

Lawyer representing freelance journalist Doubt Asima
Lawyer representing freelance journalist Doubt Asima

Asima, a 29 year-old freelance journalist, had been on trial following his arrest on Friday 16, August 2019, and charged with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry as defined in Section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

During trial before Harare Magistrate Richard Ramaboea, prosecutors claimed that Asima and his co-accused Fabian Mushunga, aged 29 years, forcibly disturbed the peace, security, or order of the public by participating in a public demonstration held on that day in Harare.

Prosecutors claimed that Asima and Mushunga, who were represented by Jeremiah Bamu and Tinomuda Shoko of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, allegedly engaged in acts of public violence by barricading some streets in central Harare with stones and boulders and also threw stones at some police officers thereby disturbing the free movement of members of the public and some vehicles.

Zimbabwe Protests
Zimbabwe Protests

In his defence, Asima argued that his arrest and prosecution stems from malice and was a result of a desire by ZRP officers to conceal evidence of their wanton assaults and brutality against innocent citizens as one of them had approached and ordered him to stop taking photographs.

The freelance journalist stated that as a journalist, he was acting in the scope of his professional trade, gathering newsworthy photographs and he took pictures of some ZRP officers assaulting civilians at Africa Unity Square in Harare.

FILE: Riot police arrest and forcibly apprehend protestors during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug, 16, 2019.
FILE: Riot police arrest and forcibly apprehend protestors during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug, 16, 2019.

Asima said he noticed an elderly woman who had fallen down in the resultant stampede and rendered her assistance before continuing with his job. It was at this point that police officers approached him and ordered him to delete the photographs he was taking.

However, when Asima refused to delete the photographs, he was immediately arrested by ZRP officers and his protestations that he was a photo-journalist accredited by Zimbabwe Media Commission was not entertained by the law enforcement agents.

In his defence, Mushunga said he was arrested by ZRP officers when he was on his way to his place of residence in Cranborne suburb after collecting various mobile phone handsets from her relative in Belvedere suburb for repair.

FILE: A riot police man kicks out at a man during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. The main opposition Movement For Democratic Change party is holding protests over deteriorating economic conditions in the country.
FILE: A riot police man kicks out at a man during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. The main opposition Movement For Democratic Change party is holding protests over deteriorating economic conditions in the country.

Mushunga said he had no knowledge of any demonstration scheduled for Friday 16, August 2019, and was subjected to a stop and seizure by ZRP officers who asked him to produce his national identity document, which he did not have on person. Thereafter, Mushunga was asked to sit down as he had no copy of his national identity document on person and was bundled into a police truck with other persons whom he did not know and taken to Harare Central Police Station, where he was subsequently advised of his charge.

Magistrate Ramaboea acquitted Asima and Mushunga after granting their application for discharge at the close of the prosecution case, which had been lodged by their lawyers, who had argued that their clients had not committed any offence and must not be put to their defence.

FILE: A villager arrives to collect food aid provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) at a distribution point in Bhayu, Zimbabwe, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo - D1BEUBGYOFAA

The World Food Program (WFP) says a record 45 million people - mostly women and children - in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community are gravely food insecure following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

The WFP says as the crisis deepens, the world must step up now to save lives and enable communities to adapt to climate change.

“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” said Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director for southern Africa. “The annual cyclone season has begun, and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year’s unprecedented storms.”

“While our most pressing priority are the millions in need of immediate support, building the resilience of the many more threatened by increasingly frequent and destructive droughts and storms is absolutely essential.”

As the “lean” season deepens ahead of the annual cereal harvest in April/May, the WFP says the international community must accelerate both emergency assistance to millions of desperately hungry people in southern Africa, and long-term investments to enable the region’s vulnerable to withstand the worsening impacts of climate change. WFP says with temperatures rising at twice the global average and most of its food produced by subsistence farmers entirely dependent on increasingly unreliable rains, southern Africa has had just one normal growing season in the last five years.

It says in many places, this season’s rains have again arrived late, and experts forecast continuing hot and dry weather in the coming months, presaging yet another poor harvest.

WFP plans to provide lean season assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi.

To date, WFP has secured just US$205 million of the US$489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure. So too are 20 percent of people in Zambia, a longtime regional breadbasket now having to restrict cereal exports and accept outside assistance. Twenty percent of the population of drought-stricken Lesotho are also now severely hungry, as are ten percent of Namibians.

In a context of already high rates of malnutrition, population growth, inequality, and HIV/AIDS, the hunger crisis is being aggravated by surging food prices, large-scale livestock losses and mounting joblessness.

WFP says families across the region are eating less, skipping meals, taking children out of school, selling off precious assets and falling into debt.

“If we don’t receive the necessary funding, we’ll have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need, and with less”, said Castro. “Nor will we be able to adequately expand longer-term activities vital to meaningfully combatting the existential emergency that is climate change.”

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