Via CiZC Press Release: The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) Director Jestina Mukoko was released into her five member-strong defense counsel’s custody after being interrogated by the police in Harare on Friday, March 08, 2013.
The award-winning human rights defender had handed herself to the Harare Central Police station accompanied by prominent lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa that same Friday morning.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri the previous day had made pronouncements beamed on ZTV that the ZPP Director had been placed on police’s wanted list and could have skipped the country. The same false and alarming announcement was repeated on news bulletins in the State-controlled media.
The Commissioner General made an impassioned plea to be notified by anyone aware of Mukoko’s whereabouts so she could assist police with investigation. The hullabaloo around Mukoko’s whereabouts turned into an anti-climax after police released the prominent Human Rights Defender after just over four hours of interrogation.
One of the lawyers who spoke to the Crisis Report said police might have deliberately blown the supposed hunt out of proportion to paint Mukoko as a criminal.
Tawanda Zhuwarara said: “We were shocked. Jestina was never on the run and her legal counsel was in constant touch with the investigating officer.
“Police knew who the lawyers were from 11 February and there was always willingness to talk to them. She was not a fugitive and she was in the country and that is why she made herself available.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Director McDonald Lewanika said:
“This is not the first time we have seen a melodramatic pretence by the police that an innocent human rights defender is on the run. The police pretended to be looking for Okay Machisa a few weeks ago, alleging he had skipped the country to Norway with his secretary Faith Mamutse when he was in fact at his home in Harare.
“This is just part of the ongoing campaign against NGOs where police go out of their way to criminalize civil society. The aim is to fulfill the Zanu-PF political resolution made in Gweru in December 2012, to close the democratic space ahead of the crucial elections.
“Just like the allegations against ZIMRIGHTS will fall flat on their face very soon, the harassment of Mukoko will not lead into a legal conviction. Yet in both cases these innocent people will have suffered gross injustices.”
Mukoko is being charged with: running an unregistered organisation; taking part in the management of an unregistered organisation; possession of smuggling radios and cell phones; and that she allegedly, in line with the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) section 38 (1), failed or refused to register as a dealer.
ZRP raided the organisation that Mukoko leads as director, Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)’s offices in Harare and Masvingo in February 2013 and confiscated a number of documents radios and cellphones which they are using as evidence to level criminal charges against her.
Mukoko is being represented by Beatrice Mtetwa, Tarisai Mutangi, Tonderai Bhasatara, Tawanda Zhuwarara and Harrison Nkomo of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
Mukoko was previously abducted by 15 armed men at her home in Norton on December 3, 2008. She only resurfaced after amplified international outcry. The High Court ordered police to look for her and present her to the Courts.
She, having emerged from the abduction experience badly tortured and in bad health weeks later and after months of detention, received bail on allegations of banditry in March 2009. The Supreme Court on September 21, 2009 ordered a permanent stay of criminal proceedings against her.
Mukoko who is a journalist by training and former news anchor with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), was one of the ten women honored by the U.S.A. State Department with the International Women of Courage Award on March 10, 2010.