31 August 2007

Zimbabwe: Mai Chisamba, Betty Makoni Arrested

Harare — Talk show host Mai Rebecca Chisamba and Girl Child Network founder and director Ms Betty Makoni were yesterday picked up by police for questioning for allegedly contravening the Child Protection and Adoption Act.

Detectives from Harare Central Police Station's Law and Order Section picked the two separately after the State complained that they circumvented the law by publicly broadcasting suspected rape victims whose cases were still pending in the courts.

It is against law to interfere with State witnesses and victims when a case is still sub judice. Police recorded a warned and cautioned statement from Mai Chisamba before releasing her, while Ms Makoni was still in police custody last night. Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka confirmed the arrests but could not shed more light on the matter. However, Victim Friendly Unit national co-ordinator Mr Idine Magonga - who lodged a complaint to police - said the two had breached the Child Protection and Adoption Act.

"The two were arrested for breaching Section 5 (5) of the Child Protection and Adoption Act, which states that only a magistrate gives authority to victims who would be wishing to reveal confidential issues pending in the courts.

"This comes after eight suspected rape victims were brought to testify their ordeals on the Mai Chisamba Show. The fact that they brought them to the show as rape victims means that they are concluding that the eight children were raped.

"In other words, they obstructed justice," Mr Magonga said.

On two different episodes, eight children from GCN were interviewed during the talk show. They gave testimonies of how they were raped and rescued by Ms Makoni's organisation. They also thanked the non-governmental organisation for rescuing them. Although their faces were partially blurred, the faces could still be seen and some of the children could be identified with their voices.

In a related incident, Ms Makoni was last week arrested together with two American filmmakers who were shooting videos at one of her centres without accreditation from the Media and Information Commission.

Under Zimbabwean law, all foreign and local media practitioners are required to seek accreditation from the MIC before commencing operations. Although she was later released, Chief Supt Mandipaka said police were still carrying out investigations. The Mai Chisamba Show that featured the eight suspected rape victims provoked outrage from several child protection organisations but the two defended themselves in separate interviews earlier this week.

Mai Chisamba eventually apologised but Ms Makoni lashed out at the pressure groups that were accusing her of ignoring the rights of children.

Ms Makoni - who is due to leave for Canada on business next week - accused her critics of being jealousy. Besides the violation of children's rights, Mr Magonga had also lodged a complaint that Ms Makoni was illegally taking care of children without Government approval.

"Makoni is taking care of children without the authority of the Department of Social Welfare."The law stipulates that anyone willing to take care of orphans or rape victims should do so with the approval of the Department of Social Welfare."

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