ZIMBABWE: Jestina Mukoko Still in Custody as Case Postponed Again

Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Southern Africa
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Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

The case against human rights activist Jestina Mukoko and her eight other co-accused was once again postponed in the Harare magistrates court on Tuesday, in order for a superior court to rule on the group's arrest.

On Monday a judge ordered that Mukoko receive medical attention before the case proceeded - the second such order after police failed to comply with a previous one, stating Mukoko should be taken to hospital so allegations of torture could be investigated.

But Mukoko and the rest of the group, comprised mainly of MDC and human rights activists, will now remain behind bars until further proceedings in the Supreme Court. This after Magistrate Olivia Mariga postponed Tuesday's remand proceedings until the Supreme Court has ruled on the legality of the group's arrests and detention. No date has yet been set for the superior court date, but defence lawyers on Tuesday said they are ‘hopeful' the Supreme Court will release the group.

Meanwhile, a group of seven other abductees is set to face Magistrate Mariga in court on Wednesday, after their case was deferred on Monday. The group includes MDC director of security Chris Dlamini; freelance photojournalist Andrison Manyere; Zacharia Nkomo brother of human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo; and Gandhi Mudzingwa a former personal assistant to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The group also includes Mapfumo Garutsa, Chinoto Zulu and Regis Mujeyi.

The seven abductees are facing charges relating to the bombing of two Harare police stations and a railway line in Norton last year. At the time, the bomb attacks were speculatively linked to a ZANU PF attempt to implicate the MDC, and since the charging of the seven individuals it is being questioned whether the bombs created convenient evidence for the case to proceed.

The case was deferred to Wednesday after the defence, led by lawyer Alec Muchadehama, asked the matter to be postponed pending the outcome of an urgent chamber application filed at the High Court over the weekend. The order seeks to have all the accused released to the Avenues Clinic for treatment after recommendations by private doctors who examined the group in remand prison last week. The doctors recommended that the prisoners be accorded full medical attention because remand prison does not have the facilities they require for treatment.

The state has ardently resisted attempts to have the group released to a private medical institution, insisting that they be treated in remand prison. But the defence contends the health of the accused persons should take precedence over the state's desire to have the accused persons remanded in custody. There were heated exchanges between the state and the defence during Monday's court session, when Muchadehama accused the state of being ‘collaborators' of the torture that was perpetrated on the accused while they were secretly stashed away after being abducted.