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‘Sikhala detention, a serious violation of rights’

Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Job Sikhala

HUMAN rights defenders have expressed concern over alleged weaponisation of the police, Judiciary and prison services, citing the continued detention of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Job Sikhala as an example.

In a report titled: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: Persecution by Prosecution in the case of Zengeza West opposition Member of Parliament Job Sikhala, the activists sought to expose the weaponisation of the law in Zimbabwe targeting Sikhala.

The report was compiled by Bongani Ngwenya and Obert Chinhamo, a director at Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa.

It comprehensively details the circumstances surrounding Sikhala’s arrest and lengthy pre-trial detention.

In an interview yesterday, Chinhamo said Southern Defenders, Civic Space Network, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Political Prisoners in Africa were increasingly concerned over the judicial persecution and the abuse of the legal system also known as “lawfare” to close civic space, targeting human rights defenders and dissenting voices.

“Continued incarceration of Sikhala is not only brutal, and unfair, but a serious violation of his constitutional rights. Sikhala has been in remand prison at Chikurubi Maximum Prison from 24 June 2022 to date.

“He did not commit any criminal offence but was simply representing the family of the murdered Moreblessing Ali to seek justice in his capacity as a registered lawyer,” he said.

Sikhala was arrested on June 14, 2022 together with fellow opposition parliamentarian Godfrey Sithole and 14 other CCC activists from Nyatsime for allegedly inciting public violence.

The arrests followed the murder of CCC activist Blessing Ali by a suspected Zanu PF supporter.

The report states that suspected Zanu PF members attacked mourners and hijacked Ali’s funeral on June 12 last year.

“Sikhala was quoted as saying: ‘Zanu PF attacked everyone at Ali’s funeral last night and hijacked the funeral,’ and ‘We are going to court on an urgent basis now to interdict their MP, councillor and Simba Chisango who are leading the funeral hijackers.’

“By seeking justice for the slain Ali and her family, Sikhala appears to have been immediately targeted and used as a scapegoat for fanning unrest,” read the report.

The report noted that the dismissal of bail applications by the Magistrates Court and the High Court in circumstances where the law and the facts require that bail be granted suggests that the procedural safeguards meant to secure the right to a fair trial through the judicial process have failed and continue to fail in Sikhala’s case.

The report further states that an assessment of how the country’s courts apply the law in cases involving whistleblowers and journalists exposing corruption, government critics, activists and persons who hold dissenting political views reveals a clear trend of selective application of the law.

It said it was more evident when further assessed against how the courts apply themselves in cases involving high profile politically-connected people linked to Zanu PF accused of arguably more serious crimes.

It gave as examples Gokwe Nembudziya legislator Justice Mayor Wadyajena; former Health minister Obadiah Moyo; former Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo and Henrietta Rushwaya.

“This reinforces strong views about judicial capture and selective application of the law. Illustrations of instances in Sikhala’s arrest and detention that raise concern abound,” the report further read.

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