Zimbabwe: Journalist Facing Public Violence Charges Acquitted

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Gavel.
18 January 2020

Harare magistrate, Richard Ramaboa has acquitted a freelance journalist, Doubt Asima who landed in the dock after he tried to assist a woman who got in crossfire during an anti-government protest in August last year.

Asima was charged with public violence but walked out court a free man after he made an application for discharge at the close of the State case.

Ramaboa ruled that prosecutors had "failed to prove it's case beyond reasonable doubt."

Asima, a 29 year-old freelance journalist had been on trial after he was arrested on 16 August 2019 facing charges of participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence.

The state alleged that Asima and his co-accused Fabian Mushunga, 29, "forcibly disturbed the peace, security, or order of the public by participating in a public demonstration held on Friday 16 August 2019 in Harare."

Prosecutors claimed that Asima and Mushunga, who were represented by Jeremiah Bamu and Tinomuda Shoko of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, allegedly engaged in acts of public violence by barricading some streets in central Harare with stones and boulders and also threw stones at some police officers thereby disturbing the free movement of members of the public and some vehicles.

In his defence, Asima argued that his arrest and prosecution stemmed from malice and was a result of a desire by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers to conceal evidence of their wanton assaults and brutality against innocent citizens as one of them had approached and ordered him to stop taking photographs.

It was his defence that as a journalist, he was acting in the scope of his professional trade, gathering newsworthy photographs and he took pictures of some ZRP officers assaulting civilians at Africa Unity Square in Harare.

Asima said he noticed an elderly woman who had fallen down in the resultant stampede and rendered her assistance before continuing with his job.

It was at this point that police officers approached him and ordered him to delete the photographs he was taking.

However, when Asima refused to delete the photographs, he was immediately arrested by ZRP officers and his protestations that he was a photo-journalist accredited by Zimbabwe Media Commission were not entertained by the law enforcement agents.

Mushunga said he had no knowledge of any demonstration scheduled for Friday 16 August 2019 and was subjected to a stop and seizure by ZRP officers who asked him to produce his national identity document, which he did not have on person.

Thereafter, Mushunga was asked to sit down as he had no copy of his national identity document on person and was bundled into a police truck with other persons whom he did not know and taken to Harare Central Police Station, where he was subsequently advised of his charge.

"The acquittal of Doubt Asima and Fabian Mushunga is a welcome development that helps restore restore confidence in the justice delivery system. It does not, however, remedy the injustices perpetrated by the security sector who engage in wanton and dragnet arrests, torture and persecution of citizens," The acquitted men's lawyer, Bamu said.

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