Seventeen Zimbabwe National Student Union (Zinasu) leaders and three Norwegians students on an exchange programme in the country were arrested last Saturday in Penhalonga while holding a meeting.
Zinasu board chair and Jesuits Development Director for Zimbabwe, Father Nigel Francis Johnson, aged 71, was among those who were arrested at the Forestry Industrial Training Centre (FITC).
The foreign students were identified as Aarhus Jarand Hanto, 23, and Emilie Larsen Ornseidet, 25. They slept in police cells for two nights before they were arraigned before Mutare magistrate Poterai Gwezhira on Wednesday.
Charges levelled against them included undermining or insulting the President and failure to notify the police of a gathering as required under the Public Order and Security Act Chapter.
They were represented by Tinoziva Bere, Blessing Nyamaropa from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR and Chris Ndhlovu of Ndlovu and Gonese Law firm.
The defence counsel argued that their clients had no case to answer since they were arrested without being notified of the charge they were facing and spent two nights in police cells.
The arresting officer, one Chief Superintendent Chingozho was at pains to explain to the court why he ordered police officers to arrest the students after he was grilled by the defence lawyers.
He only told the court that the students were wearing t-shirts inscribed ‘#tajamuka Mugabe must go’ which he said was undermining the authority of the constitutionally elected President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
‘Mugabe must Go’
The top cop said the students and their colleagues were arrested while singing revolutionary songs, but the defence lawyers argued that there is no law in Zimbabwe which criminalises donning t-shirts written ‘Mugabe must Go’ and singing revolutionary songs at public places.
The defence further said the students were actually singing a Zaoga hym.
The State was ordered to release the other 15 students, foreign nationals and Fr Johnson without charges.
However, Takunga Hungwe, 24, and Alista Pfunye remained in captivity after the prosecutors brought up fresh charges against them.
Hungwe was accused of undermining the authority of or insulting President while Hungwe is facing charges of contravening sections of the Public Order and Security Act relating to notifying regulating authorities about holding public gatherings.
They were granted $100 bail each and will be back in dock on October 13.
Prosecutors told the court that the students and their colleagues went to FITC to hold a general council meeting that later turned into a political gathering.
Hungwe reportedly made “abusive, indecent or obscene statement about President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, whilst holding President Robert Mugabe portrait saying ‘hatingaite meeting yedu munhu uyu ari pamusoro pedu (we can’t hold our meeting with this man’s picture hovering above us)’”.
Hungwe reportedly placed the portrait under the desk thereby undermine the authority of the President.
The court was told that the 17 accused and their colleagues were singing political songs denouncing and insulting the government and President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe.