HOLDING a mop with a bucket of water beside him, MDC-T deputy national chairperson,Senator Morgen Komichi,vigorously scrubs the floor at Mabelreign Polyclinic in Harare on Tuesday as he performs 350 hours of community service for being found guilty of fraud and contravening the Electoral Act.
By Elias Mambo
After spending 97 days in remand at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, Komichi was last Thursday found guilty of criminally obtaining a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission ballot paper during the chaotic July 14—15 special vote which preceded the July 31 national elections, and was given a wholly-suspended 18-month jail term. Harare provincial magistrate Tendai Mahwe set aside eight months of the sentence on condition Komichi does not commit a similar offence in the next five years. He further suspended the balance of the sentence on condition Komichi performs 350 hours of community service at Mabelreign clinic.
Komichi must be savouring his freedom despite the temporary limitations imposed by the community service, as it came after five failed bail attempts — two of them at the High court.
Komichi’s sentence has raised concerns regarding the protection and respect of the liberty of people awaiting trial, particularly in cases which are politically related, and mostly involving members of opposition parties and civil society activists.
Critics of Zimbabwe’s justice system claim it is far from being impartial when handling political matters. They cite politically-related cases or those involving top opposition politicians where the accused are denied bail, while hard-core criminals accused of serious crimes like armed robbery and murder get bail.
A fortnight ago, the High Court granted US$50 bail each to eight robbery suspects arrested during a police raid at their late colleague’s funeral in Mbare. The eight have been linked to a spate of robberies and hijackings that have rocked Harare over the past months.
Besides Komichi, there are several other cases where accused political figures spent more than a year in remand, only to be acquitted later with the police sometimes receiving severe criticism from magistrates for shoddy investigations.
Former Finance minister Chris Kuruneri was acquitted by the High Court in 2007 for allegedly externalising forex to build a house in South Africa after spending more than a year in remand prison amid 10 futile appeals for bail. Kuruneri was arrested at the height of the Zimbabwean government’s anti-graft crusade, becoming the most senior official to face charges of corruption.
James Makamba was another prominent Zanu PF politician who spent about seven months in remand prison, only to be fined over $7 million in the now-defunct local currency for externalising foreign currency.
Alec Muchadehama, a member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Komichi’s lawyer, castigated the country’s judiciary system, which he said has unnecessarily incarcerated people pending trial but later found them innocent.
“The judiciary should consider a lot of things before making people suffer and later releasing them. The Komichi issue is just one of the many cases where the liberty of the individual has been compromised,” Muchadehama said.
“In the case of Komichi, at the very least he was supposed to be given bail pending trial, but we tried five times without success, only for him to be convicted and given community service,” he said.
He also said many people have fallen victim to the judiciary’s lack of respect for the liberty of the accused.
“Remember how the case of the ‘MDC 29’ accused of the murder of police Inspector Petros Mutedza in Glen View finally ended? After spending close to two years in remand prison, the majority of them were acquitted, but without any compensation,” Muchadehama said.
High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu criticised the police for indiscriminately arresting the 29 MDC-T activists who were charged with the murder of Mutedza in May 2011.
Bhunu said police investigations, which led to the arrest of the MDC-T supporters in Glen View suburb, were carried out “carelessly”.
The judge also said although the activists’ proffered different alibis, the police, in some instances, chose to ignore the explanations and simply proceeded to detain the accused persons without verifying the facts.
One such case was that of Cynthia Manjoro, arrested by the police in a bid to use her as bait to trap her boyfriend Darlington Madzonga.
Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme said the Komichi case reinforces calls to reform the whole justice system.
“The Komichi case clearly demonstrates the partisanship of the judiciary. This is one of a multitude of cases that demonstrate how unbalanced our judiciary system is where perceived opponents of the state, be it from civil society or political parties, do not get a fair trial,” Saungweme said.
“It is a clear miscarriage of justice when people are arrested in order to be investigated. The courts, in most similar cases, work to appease the interests of the state by working together with the police and the Attorney-General’s Office.”
He also said reforming the judiciary system is long overdue and any opposition political party that wants to make an impact should dwell on the issue, together with other crucial reforms, before talking about elections.
“The arrest-to-investigate approach that has become second-nature to the Zimbabwe Republic Police, must come to an end. We strongly urge the ZRP to investigate in order to arrest; a practice consistent with all human rights upholding police forces throughout the world,” said Muchadehama.
With the new constitution in place there is hope that amendment of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, widely criticised as being draconian and prone to abuse by the state, will be repealed.
Section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) enables the Attorney-General or his representative to have an accused person who has just been granted bail by a judge or magistrate kept in detention for up to seven days simply by informing the court that they wish to appeal against the granting of bail.
In the last parliament, MDC-T Mutare Central Member of Parliament, Innocent Gonese, attempted to introduce amendments to the CPEA as well as the Public Order and Security Act through a Private Members Bill, but his efforts were blocked by Zanu PF.