Eighty-six protesters, who were arrested during the July stay-away, have been freed by a Bulawayo magistrate after the State failed to produce solid evidence against them.
State prosecutor Jeremiah Mutsindikwa conceded that there was no sufficient evidence to enable commencement of trial, leaving magistrate Charity Maphosa with no option but to drop the charges.
The 86 — represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights’ Jonathan Tsvangirai, Lison Ncube, Jabulani Mhlanga and Tanaka Muganyi — were being charged with public violence.
“The matter was supposed to go for trial today (yesterday) but when we went to court . . . the State said it’s withdrawing the charges.
“They said they do not have evidence against the accused persons,” Tsvangirai told the Daily News.
He said: “It was clear from the onset that there was no case as they were randomly picked in a dragnet scenario.
All along, the State was saying it is ready for trial. At one point, we applied for refusal for further remand for the accused persons on the basis that the State was not ready to proceed, as they had no witnesses and they had no docket,” Tsvangirai said.
“Surprisingly, they went on to oppose our application on the basis that they were waiting for instructions from the head office to proceed,” he said.
The matter had been failing to take off for the past two months, despite the State having been given ample time to gather evidence.
“The State requested time to put their house in order and at the last remand, the prosecutor had indicated that they were now ready to prosecute but they made a U-turn and said they were dropping the charges.”
When the accused were arrested, they were 88 but two were juveniles who were later released into the custody of their parents by the magistrate after having spent four days in police custody.
Initially, the lawyers had decried the amount of bail — pegged at $80 per individual which amounted to about $6 800 — against the accused arguing that it was steep considering that almost all of them were unemployed.
This saw some of the accused staying in remand prison for several days, as stakeholders, among them Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers, mobilised resources to bail them out.