Today’s acquittal of 21 human rights and opposition activists by Zimbabwe’s High Court leaves the authorities with serious questions to answer about police misconduct in the aftermath of a police officer’s murder, Amnesty International said.
"This acquittal of the 21 activists is a positive development – Amnesty International has always believed that most, if not all, of the accused had been arrested as a result of a politicized investigation into the death of the police officer,” said Noel Kututwa, southern Africa director at Amnesty International.
"This tragic loss of a police officer’s life could have been professionally investigated without the human rights violations that have now tainted it. Police investigations must be competent, thorough, prompt, and impartial.”
Seven activists from Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) remain on trial over the murder of police officer Petros Mutedza in the Harare suburb of Glen View in 2011.
The acquittals came as the state closed its case against the 29 activists accused of the murder. Many of them spent more than a year in custody following their arrest in May 2011, and one, Rebecca Mafukeni, died on remand in prison.
It is widely believed that most of the suspects were arrested solely because they were known MDC-T activists living in Glen View at the time of Petros Mutedza’s death.
Among those acquitted today was human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. She was granted bail in October 2012 after a state witness said that she had been arrested and detained so as to lure another suspect who was her friend to come forward and hand themselves to the police. The alleged suspect remains at large.
Two other detainees, Solomon Madzore, the MDC-T’s Youth Assembly president and Taruvinga Magaya were also granted bail on 13 November 2012. Five others, including the late Rebecca Mafukeni, remained in custody throughout the trial.
"We urge Zimbabwe’s new government to end the politicization of policing – for too long it has been used as a tool to stifle political opponents and human rights defenders,” said Noel Kututwa.
Amnesty International calls on Zimbabwe to uphold all the rights in the new constitution which came into law in May 2013, including the right for people to belong to political parties of their choice and to freedom of association.