Harare — THE Zimbabwean government's case against anti-President Robert Mugabe demonstrators has spectacularly collapsed after courts freed 65 residents police arrested last year at the height of the picketing. The residents of the impoverished Epworth suburb had been on trial for allegedly participating in wildcat protests held last year against government maladministration, police corruption and the government's ban on the importation of goods from neighbouring countries. Among those freed by the Harare Magistrates' Court are nine juveniles aged between 16 and 19 years.
In court, prosecutors claimed the residents were engaged in public violence when they were arrested on July 4 between Mabvuku high-density suburb and Zimre Park medium density suburb and along the Harare-Mutare highway. It had been allegedly they disturbed peace, security or order of the public by violently harassing motorists and commuters by barricading the road with stones and burning tyres. Prosecutors charged that through their acts, some motorists and commuters were forced to disembark from the vehicles they were travelling in and the residents also went on to damage a police vehicle. Magistrate Victoria Mashamba however has punctured the state's case after it emerged there were no warned and cautioned statements recorded from some of them upon their arrest. Zimbabwe Republic Police recorded warned and cautioned statements from 23 residents. The prosecution team also failed to make some witnesses available and could not provide essential paperwork in court. There was more drama after Mashamba found one of the state witnesses, Tendai Chimboza, a policeman, to be in wilful default after he failed to appear in court to give evidence. The officer has been fined $20 (R260) or 20 days in jail. Zimbabweans spent the better part of 2016 engaged in street protests over political and economic crises. Police arrested scores in a brutal response.