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Nelson Chamisa and Job Sikhala ...

HARARE (Reuters) - The court appearance of a Zimbabwean opposition politician facing up to 20 years in jail was moved hundreds of kilometres away from the capital, where supporters had gathered outside a court on Wednesday in protest.

Job Sikhala, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deputy chairman and lawmaker had been expected to appear before Harare magistrates court after being arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of attempting to subvert the government at a weekend rally.

His supporters gathered at the courthouse as anti-riot police watched from a distance, but he never showed up — sparking fears he had gone missing.

Police spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, told Reuters this was not true but said the case was instead due to be heard in rural Bikita, 410 km south of the capital.

“He is on the way to Bikita to appear before a magistrate court because that is where he committed the offence. If he does not appear today he will be in court tomorrow,” Nyathi said.

In a video circulating on social media, Sikhala appears to tell supporters at a rally at the weekend: “We are going to take the fight to the doorsteps of (President) Emmerson Mnangagwa, we are going to overthrow him before 2023, that is not a joke.”

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.

His lawyer Obey Shava said Sikhala denied the charges against him, and said moving the case to Bikita did not make sense because the National Prosecution Authority had agreed to have the trial in Harare.

One of the protesters, James Makondo, who came to the Harare court in a lorry with more than a dozen MDC supporters, told Reuters: “This is criminal. They want to take Wiwa (Sikhala’s nickname) to Bikita so that his supporters cannot attend the court.

“This will not work because the MDC has supporters throughout the country.”

More than a dozen government opponents have faced similar subversion charges, with critics saying this shows the government is muzzling the opposition by reverting to harsh security laws from the era of Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a 2017 army coup.

Mugabe ruled the country for 37 years before being ousted. But Mnangagwa’s promise to break with his predecessor’s past policies and tactics and usher economic prosperity is yet to be realised.

Zimbabwe remains a deeply polarised country, with the MDC refusing to recognise Mnangagwa’s victory during last year’s presidential vote, that was expected to draw a line on the country’s history of contested election outcome.

The MDC, which also snubbed an invitation to political dialogue with Mnangagwa in February, routinely says it will use all constitutional means to remove the president, without giving more details.

The southern African nation of 15 million people was hit by a drought that wilted crops and gripped by widespread economic hardship seen in shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicines, bread and 17-hour daily power cuts that have roiled businesses. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Alison Williams)

MDC youths carrying a banner with Ostallos Gift Siziba's image.

A youth leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Nelson Chamisa has been arrested on allegations of inciting people to rise up against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Youth Assembly secretary-general Gift Ostallos Siziba allegedly urged members of the public to rebel against the Zanu PF government, which he claimed was failing to run the country currently facing serious economic problems.

In a statement, the MDC said Siziba went to Harare Central Police Station’s Criminal Investigation Department (Law and Order Section) Wednesday morning accompanied by his lawyers, Moses Nkomo and Agency Gumbo.

“The police refused to release him into their custody pending his appearance in court tomorrow (Thursday). The charges arise from remarks he allegedly made at a rally in Glen Norah in Harare on Sunday.”

Some of the people who protested outside the Harare Magistrates' Courts following delays in bringing Job Sikhala to court.
Some of the people who protested outside the Harare Magistrates' Courts following delays in bringing Job Sikhala to court.

Police were not available for comment.

His arrest comes at a time the party’s vice chairperson, Job Sikhala, is facing charges of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.

According to the MDC, “Hon. Sikhala did not show up at court and the police have not bothered to explain his whereabouts. Hon. Sikhala is facing trumped-up charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. Hon. Sikhala and Siziba’s detention expose the callous nature of Mnangagwa’s administration, which has been trying to hoodwink Zimbabweans and the international community that they are different from the oppressive regime of former president Robert Mugabe.

“The detention of the two MDC senior officials, the recent clamp-down on civil society activists and MPs have exposed this regime for what it really is. The brutal murder of innocent Zimbabweans on August 1, 2018 and in January 2019 have shown that Mnangagwa has never been a reformist, contrary to his posturing to the world and to the diplomatic community. In short, this is not in any way a Second Republic but a brutal continuation of the First.”

On allegations that Sikhala was missing following his arrested Tuesday, the Ministry of Information said in a tweet, “We have noted Media Reports alleging that Hon Sikhala is missing. Those reports are inaccurate. The courts have directed that his case should be tried in Bikita. Hon Sikhala is being transported by the police to Bikita where the alleged crime was committed.”

Sikhala allegedly said the MDC would overthrow Mnangagwa’s government before the next general elections. The government claimed that these remarks, made in public in Masvingo province recently, were treasonous.

Nelson Chamisa and Job Sikhala ...
Nelson Chamisa and Job Sikhala ...

Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga criticized the government for arresting MDC activists and others for allegedly attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.

In a tweet, Mavhinga said, “A country's economic & social progress is inextricably intertwined with its political & human rights fortunes. Not open for business unless open for good governance & human rights.”

At least 22 people, including some civil society leaders who attended a meeting on non-violent protests and were arrested soon after arriving back home a couple of weeks ago, are facing charges of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.

Some opposition leaders like the late Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo, the late Ndabaningi Sithole of Zanu (Ndonga) and the late MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai and some of their followers once faced similar charges under former president Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF government.

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