Source: Zim spends big to silence Mugabe critics – The Standard November 12, 2017
ZIMBABWE is losing millions of dollars in money that can be better used to improve the country’s crumbling social services by relentlessly prosecuting frivolous cases involving human rights activists.
Records scanned by ZimFerrets show that the police have arrested thousands of human rights and political activists as well as ordinary folk in recent years on cases arising from political bar talk, voicing legitimate dissent, organising peaceful protests and holding meetings.
Human rights lawyers like Beatrice Mtetwa endured prison for carrying out their work.
Some activists such as Evan Mawarire and dozens others have been hauled before the courts on allegations of using social media to express views regarded as anti-government.
Others, such as Martha O’Donovan, have been nabbed for “undermining the authority of or insulting the president.”
Since 2010, close to 200 people had been dragged before the courts on charges of insulting the president, including people dragged from beerhalls, according to figures obtained by ZimFerrets.
The majority have walked free after years of appearing before the courts, forcing even the judiciary to warn against such abuse of state resources.
Prosecuting authorities “should be careful not to allow prosecution when a person says something in a bar, where people are just making statements while drunk,” warned chief justice Luke Malaba in 2013 while hearing the case of a man accused of saying Mugabe was no longer fit to rule the country.
Malaba was deputy chief justice when he made those statements. Still, such arrests continue unabated.
Prosecuting authorities have taken up such cases to the courts with little success, meaning government has had to endure costs of arrests and prosecution of cases that are concocted and eventually thrown away by the courts.
A sample of thousands of cases scanned by ZimFerrets shows that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)’s success rate has been as low as 2%, meaning resources used for 98% of the cases are going to waste.
In the end, the taxpayer is footing this bill — money which analysts say could have been better spent on dilapidated social infrastructure that is in dire need of attention.
“In terms of quantification, you will realise that the state actually ends up using more in the litigation process to prosecute some trivial cases,” prominent human rights lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara said.
“In most human rights cases, the police do not always call the accused to the police station, they go to take the alleged perpetrators. Because their intention is to detain you, they raid you during the night, so that they will not release you until you appear before the court.
“But all these processes use money; in terms of fuel, bus fare for witnesses and most of the time these cases are continuously postponed and they take time to complete. This results in the cost of prosecution becoming higher,” said Bhatasara.
According to a Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) database, over 98% of the prosecuted cases involving human rights defenders end in acquittals.
This proves that the state is often on a costly wild goose chase in its quest to pursue perceived dissidents.
Take the case of residents from Harare’s Glen View suburb arrested and prosecuted for allegedly murdering a police officer in 2011.
Of the 29 suspects initially brought before the courts, only three —Yvonne Musarurwa, Last Maengahama and Tungamirai Madzokere — were convicted.
The trial lasted three years, gobbling hundreds of thousands of dollars as the matter was postponed on numerous occasions and involved a long list of witnesses.
One of the suspects, Rebecca Mafikeni, even died in custody before the conclusion of the case.
Gift Mtisi, one of the lawyers involved in the case, told ZimFerrets that the suspects appeared in court 75 times in a trial that involved over 18 witnesses.
Figures provided by ZLHR reveal the huge waste.
Of the 618 individuals represented by ZLHR in finalised cases in 2013, a total of 167 (27%) were discharged at the close of the state case, while 425 (69%) were released without charge.
Only 26 individuals (4%) were pursued, of whom 14 (2%) were convicted — 12 of those were forced to pay fines in order to escape detention in filthy and condemned cells.
In 2014, ZLHR handled 267 cases that were finalised. A total of 120 (44%) were either discharged at the close of the state case or acquitted, while 77 (28%) were released without charge.
The NPA declined to prosecute seven individuals, and applications for exception to charges were upheld for 44 individuals. Only 19 individuals (7%) were convicted.
The organisation assisted at least
1 031 human rights activists in 2016. The majority of the cases were either eventually thrown out or are still pending.
“The statistics have shown that the actions of prosecutorial authorities have been, and continue to be, perceptively biased in their prosecution of alleged crimes,” ZLHR said.
“This conduct results in unnecessary misuse of scarce taxpayers’ resources.”
Obey Shava, a lawyer who has represented dozens of human rights activists, said the state was incurring huge costs in its bid to thwart “dissenting” voices.
“There are lots of costs involved in printing court documents, buying stationery and constitutionally when one is arrested and has no cellphone to call a close relative, the state will have to provide. Effectively the government incurs more costs,” Shava said.
Another human rights lawyer, Marufu Mandevere, said the costs incurred by the state in prosecuting human rights activists include salaries, printing of documents, investigations and feeding activists kept in detention and remand prison.
Millions more are spent by victims of the clampdown hiring lawyers to defend their cases.
The Law Society of Zimbabwe is currently using general tariffs pronounced in 2011, pegged at $350 an hour for the most experienced lawyers, while those with experience of between two and four years charge up to $120 per hour and those with less than two years on the job charge $75 an hour.
With an average figure of $350 an hour for eight working hours in a day, the amount translates to $2 800 a day, which, if multiplied by 75 court appearance as in the Glen View murder case, amounts to $210 000 per individual.
Mandevere said many lawyers were now charging below standard rates for human rights cases to ensure access to justice for victims of the government clampdown.
The costs, he said, are higher for the state, which is funded by taxpayers because of the bureaucracy and processes involved.
The government has not made public the amount it uses for such adventures, but legal experts say the cost could run into millions of dollars.