HARARE – MDC Alliance vice chairman Job Sikhala appeared in court Saturday charged with incitement of public violence, and his lawyers quickly applied for the charges to be thrown out arguing he had committed no crime.
Sikhala was arrested in Tynwald North in Harare on Friday, nearly a month after police named him among 14 opposition leaders, human rights defenders and trade unionists who were “sought by police for interview.”
The declaration of the 14 as wanted persons came as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government launched an often-brutal crackdown on opponents, including journalists.
Sikhala’s lawyer Advocate Eric Matinenga complained bitterly about the conduct of prosecutors after Sikhala was taken to court early Saturday – but had to wait seven hours before his case was heard.
Anti-riot police dispersed dozens of Sikhala’s supporters outside court. They also temporarily arrested Jeremiah Bhamu, one of Sikhala’s lawyers, accusing him of “loitering”, but he was later released without charged.
When proceedings finally got underway, it was too late to deal with the arguments prompting the magistrate to remand him in custody to Monday.
Typically, lawyers allow their clients to be remanded to a later date, while they prioritise bail application at the first appearance. Matinenga elected to fight differently, arguing that there was no basis for the politician to be placed on remand.
“The point we have taken, which we could not complete today because of time constraints, is that from the allegations placed before the court, they do not amount to a criminal offence,” Matinenga told journalists outside court.
Prosecutors have charged Sikhala over videos in which he urged Zimbabweans to take part in anti-government protests that were planned for July 31.
Mnangagwa deployed the army and police to snuff out the protests by blocking access to urban centres and forcing Zimbabweans to stay home. Dozens of people were arrested for either staging isolated small protests or supporting the demonstrations, including opposition leaders and journalists.
The crackdown has drawn international condemnation, including demands for the “prisoners of conscience” to be freed.
Mnangagwa claims there is a plot by Western countries to destabilise his government through the local opposition and eventually oust him.