As the trial of Zimbabwean social movement activist Pastor Evan Mawarire, who was arrested upon his return after six months in exile, opens today (16 March), a fellow pro-democracy activist warns he may face a biased justice system.
Mawarire, the face of Zimbabwe's #ThisFlag protest campaign, was detained at Harare International Airport on 1 February as he returned to his homeland. He was then handed fresh charges of "insulting" the Zimbabwean national flag, inciting public violence and subverting a constitutionally elected government. Mawarire, who said he is open to the idea of running for office in 2018, appeared in court on 18 February but his trial was postponed until today.
Speaking exclusively to IBTimes UK, fellow activist Linda Masarira, who was sentenced to 385 hours of community service at Marlborough clinic earlier this month but has appealed the conviction and sentence, described how she is also awaiting to hear back from the justice system regarding several other cases against her.
The mother of five said that, on top of her sentence, she also has to attend other hearings, and alleged judges purposefully use stalling tactics.
Accused of "criminal nuisance" and "insulting police officers" after she was arrested at Harare Gardens on 14 October last year during a demonstration, Masarira was supposed to attend a hearing yesterday (15 March). The case is on trial and was postponed to 21 April.
"When you go they just want to frustrate you. Yesterday, I went in the morning, and was told to wait until 11.15. After 11.15, I was told to come back at 14.15, but when I got there we were told to come back on 25 March. They try to prolong the process."
"The day before yesterday, I was supposed to appear at the magistrates' court in the afternoon, but at the same time they delayed the hearing and impounded my car – they still have my car – and issued a warrant of arrest if I didn't go yesterday in the morning. It is a police state, and they are deliberately trying to frustrate me, or to ensure that I don't go to court so they find a reason of putting me behind bars."
'Obviously they will try and convict me'
Masaria will also be on trial at Mutare Magistrates' Court on 20 March over "disorderly conduct" and "insulting the president" charges relating to an incident in Mutare in May 2015.
"Our judicial system is not independent, so obviously they will try and convict me. These police officers just try to look for issues," the activist added.
"That's what they did in this previous case because the judgment states that they found me guilty because every police officer could identify me by name. But you can't say someone is guilty because a police officer could identify you by name. Because I am a known figure, a public figure, obviously a police officer will know that this was me, Linda Masarira."
In a final case, linked to her arrest during a vigil at Africa Unity Square in June 2016, Masarira – who many describe as President Robert Mugabe's nemesis – was released on 26 September after her case was repeatedly postponed by lower courts. She had been incarcerated since 6 July.
Zimbabwe's Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the US Embassy in Zimbabwe states on its website that "political pressure and corruption frequently compromised this right". By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts did not always respect this right, the embassy added.