Civil rights organisations call for release of Farirai Gumbonzvanda and her co-accused

Sonke Menengage

MenEngage Africa and MenEngage Global Alliance are regional and global alliances connecting over 44 country networks and 6 regional networks across the world advocating for gender justice and the promotion of human rights, and together with Sonke Gender Justice, we call for the immediate release and dropping of all charges against Farirai Gumbonzvanda, a 25 year-old young female Zimbabwean social justice and girls rights advocate who was arbitrarily arrested alongside others including; George Makoni, Nyasha Frank Mphalo, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Stabile Dewa, Rita Nyampinga by the Government of Zimbabwe.

Farirai serves as a mentor and community volunteer with Rosaria Memorial Trust – a non-governmental, non-political, and not-for-profit organisation in Zimbabwe.

On 21 May 2019, Farirai Gumbonzvanda together with the people named above, were arrested on arrival at the Robert Mugabe International Airport without just cause by security operatives.

She has been baselessly accused of intent to subvert and overthrow the constitutionally elected Government of Zimbabwe, in addition to the charges of counter-intelligence, and acts of terrorism – charges which if convicted carry a maximum term of 20 years.

Prior to her arrest, Farirai applied and was accepted for a training workshop in the Maldives hosted by an organisation called CANVAS. The workshop training was from May 15 – 19, 2019.

The content of the training covered the following topics: Non-violent Tools and Tactics for Civic Engagement; Building Unity through Articulating a Strong Vision for Tomorrow; Designing Tools for Effective Communication; Protecting One’s Privacy and Security from Threats of Trolling, Fake news, etc, with a special focus on digital security and safe communications.

On 17 May 2019, while Farirai was still attending her training in the Maldives, the State-controlled media outlet, The Herald newspaper, published a story with the headline: “Plot to unleash violence unearthed” in which the paper accused among others, the Rozaria Memorial Trust as part of groups undergoing training for subversive purposes.

Rosaria Memorial Trust responded and issued an official statement on the same day to refute the allegations which it found baseless and unfounded and demanded an immediate retraction and apology.

Farirai completed her training and returned to Zimbabwe on the 21st of May 2019 where she was arrested upon arrival at the airport.

Farirai is currently remanded in custody at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. She  was scheduled to re-appear in court on June 6, 2019.

The arrest of Farirai and others’ signals a clear lapse in judgement ,with no just cause having been established for their arbitrary incarceration. No prima facie evidence has been presented to support her alleged offences. We are concerned by this lack of respect for the rule of law and culture of impunity that continues to be displayed by Zimbabwean authorities against innocent civilians.

The principles of natural justice demand that before one’s liberties can be curtailed, the state must have prima facie evidence of criminal conduct. There is a responsibility on the part of the state to show just cause for why a citizen should be remanded  in custody. No such evidence has been presented in Farirai’s and other’s case. No evidence of training for subversive purposes exists in Farirai’s case.

Her arbitrary arrest infringes on her constitutional right of freedom of association, assembly and expression which are constitutionally guaranteed and protected fundamental legal human rights, under international human rights law. These are internationally guaranteed rights under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), The African Charter, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Rights to Organise Convention, agreements which Zimbabwe has signed and ratified. By continuing  to detain Farirai and others,  the Zimbabwean Government is violating its constitutional and international obligations.

Farirai’s arrest also violates the presumption of innocent until proven guilty as she is currently being treated as a criminal and is detained at a maximum security prison, before she has even been tried.

Farirai has never been involved in any politically motivated activities and her charges fit into a much wider pattern of documented repression directed against human rights activists, civic expression and activities in Zimbabwe. The new Zimbabwe leadership committed to the world after the elections to uphold human rights.  We believe that the world gave Zimbabwe a benefit of the doubt in this regard and this latest attack on human rights defenders flies in the face of this commitment. MenEngage Africa, MenEngage Global Alliance, Sonke Gender Justice, together with its members and partners, support the exercise of the freedom of association, expression and movement, and steadfastly uphold the human rights of all people under international human rights law.

We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Farirai Gumbonzvanda and others from Chikurubi Maximum Prison as well as the dropping of all unfounded allegations against her and her co-accused.

We demand that Zimbabwe reform and align their legislation with s58 of Zimbabwean Constitution by repealing the Draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and other laws that violate civil liberties.

For comments and  further information please contact:

  • Hassan Sekajoolo, Chairperson, MenEngage Africa Alliance, hsekajoolo@gmail.com
    Bafana Khumalo, Acting Co-Executive Director, Sonke Gender Justice, bafana@genderjustice.org.za
    Joni van de Sand, Director, MenEngage Global Alliance, joni@menengage.org